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EPA chief rejects ethics scandals as lies, distractions

Reuters
April 26. 2018 8:51PM
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 26, 2018. (REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)



WASHINGTON (Reuters) — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt told lawmakers during a heated congressional hearing on Thursday that allegations of ethical missteps plaguing his tenure are untrue and are intended to derail President Donald Trump's agenda.

"Facts are facts and fiction is fiction," the embattled agency chief told a House of Representatives panel in the first of two hearings at which he appeared. "And a lie doesn't become true just because it appears in the front page of the newspaper."

Pruitt faced tough questions from Democrats and fellow Republicans in his high-stakes testimony as he seeks to avoid becoming the latest in a long list of Cabinet members and senior White House officials who have either quit or been fired by Trump. Pruitt often avoided being pinned down on specifics, or deflected responsibility onto his staff.

Trump administration officials have become frustrated by news reports on Pruitt ranging from his spending on first-class air travel and security, to his rental of a room in a high-end Washington condo linked to an energy lobbyist with business before the agency.

"Much of what has been targeted at me and my team has been half truths or, at best, stories that have been so twisted that they do not resemble reality," Pruitt testified.

"Let's have no illusions about what is really going on here," Pruitt added. "Those who attack the EPA and attack me are doing so because they want to attack and derail the president's agenda and undermine this administration's priorities. I'm simply not going to let that happen."

There are nearly a dozen pending investigations into Pruitt with the EPA inspector general, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the White House Office of Management and Budget, as well as the House oversight committee.

Democrats hammered Pruitt with rapid-fire "yes or no" questions about the scandals, at times calling his conduct shameful and embarrassing, and also castigated him for his moves to roll back environmental regulations the Trump administration has said hinder economic growth.

Representative Paul Tonko of New York, for example, ripped Pruitt for his "seemingly endless misconduct" and "what appears to be a propensity for grift." Fellow Democrat John Sarbanes of Maryland called Pruitt "the poster child for the abuse of the public trust."

Asked by one lawmaker about whether he was aware that the EPA's purchase of a $43,000 secure phone booth for his office violated spending laws before it was approved, Pruitt responded, "We are investigating this internally."


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