White House officials on Wednesday appeared to distance themselves from embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, raising doubts about whether he will remain in the administration.
At a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to say that Pruitt has President Trump’s full support. Since last week, the EPA administrator has been revealed to have rented a Capitol Hill condominium from a lobbyist couple whose clients had business before the agency at a potentially below-fair market rate, and on Tuesday it was revealed he allegedly used an obscure provision of the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act last month to give substantial raises to two key aides, despite disapproval from the White House.
“We’re reviewing the situation, and when we’ve had a chance to have a deeper dive on that, we’ll let you know the outcomes of that,” Sanders said. “[The] president thinks he has done a good job on the deregulatory front, but, again, we take this seriously and we’re looking into it.”
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Sanders’ statement marks a stark shift from the beginning of the week, when Trump reportedly called Pruitt to give him his personal support. On Tuesday, when asked by reporters about the EPA administrator, Trump said, “I hope he’s going to be great.”
In an interview with Fox News Wednesday, Pruitt said he was unaware that two of his closest staffers, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, received raises of $56,765 and $28,130, respectively, and that he reversed the decision on Tuesday. He also claimed he does not know who authorized using the Safe Drinking Water Act to circumvent the White House in the matter.
“My staff and I found out about it yesterday and I changed it,” he said. “I found out this yesterday and I corrected the action and we are in the process of finding out how it took place and correcting it.”
The EPA administrator also defended his $50 per night rental agreement with Vicki Hart, a health care lobbyist whose husband, Steven Hart, is chairman of lobbying firm William and Jensen. William and Jensen represents several companies under the jurisdiction of the EPA, and The New York Times has reported at least one of those corporations received a pipeline project approval from the agency while Pruitt lived in Hart’s condo.
“This was like an Airbnb situation,” Pruitt told Fox News. “When I was not there, the landlord, they had access to the entirety of the facility. When I was there, I only had access to a room.”
Other reports have disputed this claim, alleging that Pruitt’s daughter also stayed in the apartment when she was a White House intern. Although an agency ethics memo says Pruitt’s rental agreement allowed such activity, Vicki Hart told ABC News she was unaware of and did not approve of it.