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Two House Republicans called Tuesday for the ouster of Scott Pruitt, the embattled administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, with one of those lawmakers saying Pruitt's "corruption scandals are an embarrassment" and his "conduct is grossly disrespectful to American taxpayers". "I hope he's going to be great", the President said.
White House chief of staff John Kelly reportedly also called Pruitt on Tuesday to reiterate his support for the head of the EPA. But they added that the tone of Trump's call was not entirely positive.
However, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who outlasted the "Bridgegate" scandal that thwarted his presidential ambitions, on Sunday said he was concerned about the ethics of Pruitt's rental. The White House would not confirm the content of those conversations.
The ethics memo stated that the lease authorized the use of the condo by Pruitt and his immediate family, including his daughter McKenna Pruitt who stayed in a second bedroom during a White House internship.
Democrats, meanwhile, are calling on Pruitt to resign "immediately". The unconventional lease terms permitted Pruitt to pay $50 only on days his bedroom in the unit was actually occupied - with a total of $6,100 in payments over a roughly six-month period past year. The condo is co-owned by Vicki Hart, the wife of lobbyist J. Steven Hart who has registered to lobby for companies with environmental or energy interests. EPA also granted a favourable ruling to a pipeline company also represented by Hart's firm. "I request that you initiate an investigation into the appropriateness of Mr. Pruitt's living arrangement".
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In the Senate, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island sent a letter to the EPA's inspector general requesting he investigate Pruitt's living situation in Washington. Spokeswoman Jennifer Kaplan said the watchdog office is evaluating the requests.
Pruitt's renting scandal comes amid other recent controversies, including his use of 24-hour security on vacations and his use of first-class travel.
In this letter, the Senators ask Pruitt to detail meetings he took with the auto industry or the oil industry, as well as the modeling and methodology underlying the decision to throw out the final determination that was issued in January 2017. In the year he has served as the Trump administration's top environmental official, Pruitt has moved to scrap, gut or replace numerous environmental regulations opposed by the industry while boosting the continued burning of fossil fuels, which is the primary cause of climate change. (It seems he's clung on this long in part because he's done such a good job gutting Obama-era regulations.) And if the Times headline wasn't enough to spur Kelly to action, The Washington Post reported on Monday that Pruitt's staff explored the idea of leasing a private jet to accommodate his "travel needs" (the idea was scrapped after estimates came in at roughly $100,000 a month), while The Atlantic revealed that Pruitt himself bypassed the White House to give two of his closest aides huge raises past year. After failing to win approval from the West Wing, Pruitt used a little-known legal manoeuvr to push the pay increases through.
The comments come amid numerous controversies centering on Pruitt. Pruitt's 26-year-old scheduling director got a 33 per cent raise, increasing her salary to almost $115,000.
Other Trump Cabinet members, including Housing Secretary Ben Carson and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, have also faced questions about their expenditures.