Lawmakers say Scott Pruitt should testify over phone booth, bug sweep

EPA chief Scott Pruitt's ethics questions

Democratic lawmakers have sent a letter to House Oversight Committee chairman Trey Gowdy that calls for more scrutiny of embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's spending on security measures, including a phone booth he had installed in his office.

Democratic Sens. Tom Carper Sheldon Whitehouse, joined by Reps. Elijah Cummings, Gerald Connolly, and Don Beyer, sent the letter to Gowdy on Tuesday. In it, they share what they call "troubling developments" regarding Pruitt's "security spending and personnel decisions."

The letter notes that the General Accountability Office has said that Pruitt's decision to install the phone booth, which cost the agency $43,000, and which he argued was necessary for him to discuss classified information, was in violation of federal regulations. It also says that documents that the Democrats obtained from the EPA indicate that Pruitt's use of the booth may pose a security risk as his office, where the booth is located, is not secured for confidential communications.

"Even if the phone booth itself is authorized to receive top secret communications, that would mean classified information is being received in an otherwise not-secured location, preventing [Pruitt] from discussing it with any other cleared person," the lawmakers write. "EPA already has two Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facilities (known as 'SCIFs') in its Washington D.C. headquarters, which do not suffer from this infirmity."

The lawmakers also say that "unclassified but non public documents" they have obtained suggest that the agent in charge of Pruitt's security detail, Pasquale "Nino" Perotta, may have "improperly directed a contract to his business partner Edwin Steinmetz." They say that after Pruitt requested that his office be swept for bugs, the contract was awarded to Steinmetz, "who is a partner with Mr. Perotta in Sequoia Security Group."

The letter than says that the EPA's Office of Homeland Security then criticized the sweep as "very basic" and not in line with government standards in a report. That report was then circulated to several EPA officials who have been "reassigned or otherwise retaliated against for questioning Administrator Pruitt's spending or security measures."

According to the lawmakers, the documents they've obtained "raise questions" about Perotta's involvement in awarding the contract to Steinmetz and about EPA's security expenditures generally. They also say that the anyone who provided this information to Congress is protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act, and that Pruitt should be called to testify about the findings.

Documents obtained by CBS News show that EPA officials raised flags about the phone booth and its $43,000 price tag. Last week, the GAO said the EPA broke the law by neglecting to inform Congress of the expense – which is required when agencies spend more than $5,000 to outfit the office of an agency head.

CBS News' Julianna Goldman contributed to this report.