WASHINGTON (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt had a top aide seek a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel and perform other personal chores for him, including house-hunting and booking personal travel, according to testimony released Monday.
Millan Hupp’s transcribed interview last month before a panel of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee staffers marks the first public accounting from one of Pruitt’s closest aides on personal errands that she said the EPA chief had her do. The transcript was released Monday by committee Democrats.
Asked about her email to managers of the Trump hotel at Pruitt’s request, Hupp said Pruitt was trying to get a used mattress.
“The administrator had spoken with someone at the Trump Hotel, who had indicated there could be a mattress he could purchase, an old mattress he could purchase,” said Hupp, the EPA administrator’s director of scheduling who came to Washington with Pruitt.
She said she did not know what Pruitt planned to do with any mattress, but added, “It was around the same time that he was moving.”
President Donald Trump has stood behind his embattled EPA chief, but this is the first time an ethical question surrounding Pruitt has touched on part of the president’s business empire.
Asked Monday about the mattress, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said they are looking into it. “I couldn’t comment on the specifics of the furniture used in his apartment,” she said.
Democratic Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Gerald Connolly of Virginia called the errands a violation of federal law on gifts from subordinates and asked the majority to subpoena agency records they said were being withheld. They are the top Democrats on the House oversight committee and a subcommittee on government operations, respectively.
“If Ms. Hupp’s statements to the committee are accurate, Administrator Pruitt crossed a very clear line and must be held accountable,” they wrote to committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican.
Gowdy’s spokeswoman Amanda Gonzalez criticized the Democrats for “selectively releasing” portions of closed-door testimony, saying it could undermine the investigation by discouraging potential witnesses from coming forward.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the agency is “in full cooperation in providing the committee with the necessary documents, travel vouchers, receipts and witnesses to his inquiries.” He did not answer questions about the mattress, including whether Pruitt actually got one and if so, how much he paid.
A mattress deal between Pruitt and his boss’ business would breach ethics codes only if the hotel did not usually sell mattresses to the public, or if Pruitt got a special deal, Craig Holman of the nonpartisan Public Citizen watchdog group said.
But he said asking Hupp to carry out personal errands would be violating the federal ethics rules. The Office of Government Ethics “should be reading the headlines and calling Scott Pruitt as we speak,” he said.
It was not immediately clear whether the Trump hotel generally offers used mattresses for sale to the general public.
A Trump hotel staffer who answered the phone Monday morning told The Associated Press that the hotel’s standard mattress is a Stearns & Foster model that can be purchased through Trump Hotel guest services. The hotel’s front desk provided a number to call.
After an initial message wasn’t returned, a reporter called again and was routed to a recording for new mattress sales at Temper + Sealy, the parent company of Stearns & Foster. The line was not accepting voicemails then.
The District of Columbia has strict rules about the resale of used bedding and it is illegal under certain circumstances.
The Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment.
Hupp, 26, worked on Pruitt’s political team in Oklahoma before following him to Washington. Since arriving at EPA last year, Hupp’s government salary jumped from $48,000 to $114,590, after she was awarded two salary hikes. Pruitt has denied having direct knowledge of the raises, which he said he would roll back following fierce criticism.
EPA emails obtained by The Sierra Club under the Freedom of Information Act late last month show Hupp and another EPA staffer also contacted a Washington-area real estate agent during the work day.
“Just checking in to make sure everything is taken care of with Mr. Pruitt,” realtor John Walker wrote Hupp in one final email, in August 2017. Walker told The Associated Press he never actually showed any prospective homes to Pruitt or his staff.
Hupp had denied using EPA email for Pruitt’s house-hunting when she talked to House staffers. During congressional hearings last month, Pruitt told lawmakers he was “not aware of any government time being used by Millan Hupp” for the house-hunt.
Hupp told the investigators that while she was on Christmas vacation, Pruitt asked her to book a flight for him to see his home-state Sooners play in the Rose Bowl. She said he had given her his personal credit card and she used that to make the reservation.
EPA’s Office of Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office and the House Oversight committee are conducting a dozen separate investigations into alleged misspending and ethical missteps involving Pruitt and his top aides.
Federal law makes it a crime to “knowingly and willfully” give materially false statements to Congress.
Pruitt has been under intense scrutiny since March, when media reports first revealed the EPA chief had rented a luxury Capitol Hill condo tied to a prominent oil and gas lobbyist for just $50 a night.
Other recently disclosed examples of Pruitt seeking special treatment include his repeated use of first-class air travel, luxury hotel suits and directing his security staff to use lights and sirens to speed through Washington traffic to dinner reservations.
Pruitt asked coal mining baron Joseph W. Craft III for courtside seats to a University of Kentucky basketball game, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
Though the seats were in a section reserved for donors who had given at least a million dollars to the university, Wilcox said Pruitt paid just the face value of $130 for each ticket. Wilcox told the Times that Pruitt paid the billionaire in cash and that there was no receipt.