CBSN

New details emerge about EPA chief's rental of condo linked to lobbyist

Last Updated Mar 31, 2018 9:04 PM EDT

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt rented a bedroom in a Capitol Hill condo from the wife of a Washington lobbyist for $50 a day from mid-February through the end of July in 2017, CBS News has confirmed. Pruitt's daughter also lived in the condo while she was interning at the White House. 

Pruitt's rent equates to about $1,500 a month, but the terms of the deal were favorable. The deal required Pruitt only to pay the nightly rate when he stayed there, and he was not charged for nights when he slept elsewhere. Pruitt traveled regularly, often returning to Oklahoma on the weekends. Documents released by the agency confirm that ethics officials at EPA signed off on the arrangement. Over the course of the five-and-a-half months, Pruitt paid $6100 in rent, about $2150 less than someone paying his rate every night.

Pruitt's landlord was Vicki Hart, the wife of Steven Hart, a Washington lobbyist whose firm represents a number of fossil fuel companies. 

At one point during the lease, Pruitt fell ill and left work early. After his security detail was unable to contact him for several hours, the security personnel went to the condo and tried opening the glass door, eventually breaking its handle and shattering a pane of glass. It was later replaced by the condo association at a cost of $2,460, billed to the EPA. ABC first reported that security personnel had to access the condo out of concern for Pruitt.

Pruitt used the upstairs bedroom and had limited access to the kitchen and living areas downstairs. From time to time, the main level was used for Republican fundraisers. As an administration source told CBS News, using the apartment, with its proximity to Capitol Hill, was a cheaper alternative for fundraisers than renting a room at a pricey D.C. restaurant. 

But Pruitt wasn't the only tenant. His daughter also stayed at the condo while she was interning at the White House. An official said Pruitt paid rent for nights his daughter was there even if he was not. The terms of the lease permitted Pruitt's family members to stay in the apartment, according to the ethics document. 

Pruitt intended to use the apartment for only a few weeks while he was getting settled in Washington. He ended up staying more than five months. In August, Pruitt moved to an apartment at 14th and U Street. He now lives in an apartment near Trader Joe's on Capitol Hill.

"As EPA career ethics officials stated in a memo, Administrator Pruitt's housing arrangement for both himself and family was not a gift and the lease was consistent with federal ethics regulations," EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told CBS News. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for Hart said an EPA ethics officer verified that the lease's daily rate "is consistent with federal ethics regulations."  

"Further, describing Mr. Hart as an energy or EPA lobbyist during the Trump administration is false as he did not lobby the EPA or the DOE in 2017 or 2018," the statement added.

President Trump called Pruitt last weekend to tell him he was doing "a great job," a person familiar with their conversation told CBS News. The source said the president likes him because he is getting a lot done on rolling back regulations and believes the travel and housing stories will blow over. 

Pruitt has also been scrutinized for his travel. A work trip to Italy last year cost taxpayers $120,000. Pruitt told CBS News in February that his next flight would likely be coach.