Environmental Protection Agency administration Scott Pruitt spent about $105,000 on first class airfare since assuming the post, records obtained by The Daily Beast show.
The details of Pruitt’s travel are spelled out in documents sent to congressional investigators on Tuesday as part of the House Oversight Committee’s probe into the use of taxpayer resources for official government travel.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chairman of the committee, requested the records in February, indicating that they might show illicit government expenditures on lavish air travel.
“Clearly, federal regulations prohibit a blanket waiver to fly first class except to accommodate disabilities or special needs,” Gowdy wrote in a letter to Pruitt at the time. “Instead, a waiver is required for each flight in order to fly first of business class when traveling on official government business.”
I'm a letter to Gowdy, EPA said that Pruitt’s first class travel was approved “on an individualized basis,” and was necessary due to security concerns. His security detail, the letter said, “identified specific, ongoing threats associated with the administration administrator's air travel and, therefore, shifted his class based on security protocols that require him to be near the front of the plane.”
EPA’s production of the travel records came two weeks after the deadline that Gowdy imposed last month. EPA and committee spokespeople told The Daily Beast last week that they were working to resolve the request despite the blown deadline.
The White House has requested similar records from the EPA, two West Wing sources told The Daily Beast. The agency has yet to satisfy that request, though Tuesday’s document production to the Oversight Committee could make it moot.
Pruitt has faced scrutiny over his penchant for first class air travel along with his large security detail. He insisted in a February interview with CBS News that flying coach presented security risks, but nevertheless said he would do so going forward due to cost concerns.
In addition to his commercial travel, Pruitt had, by September 2017, spent about $58,000 on charter and military flights, according to records provided to congressional overseers. Pruitt’s staff attributed the most expensive of those flights to the administrator’s time constraints in getting to official events.
Pruitt's air travel habits are part of a larger criticism of other EPA expenses under his watch, including the $43,000 spent for a secure, soundproof phone booth in the agency’s headquarters and accompanying renovations. The Government Accountability Office announced a probe into those expenses last month.
Pruitt has also spent thousands of dollars on anti-surveillance sweeps of his office. The agency says the sweeps and the secure phone booth were standard information-security measures and warranted expenditure of taxpayer funds.
Tuesday’s letter comes amid a number of particularly egregious cases of misuse of taxpayer resources by other Trump cabinet officials. Most recently, documents obtained by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington showed that the Treasury Department has paid nearly $1 million for Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s travel on government airplanes.
In all, Mnuchin took eight trips included one with his wife that happened to coincide with an historic solar eclipse last year.
—With reporting by Asawin Suebsaeng