By Alana Abramson
April 12, 2018

A former aide to Scott Pruitt told members of Congress new details about the head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s extravagant spending habits, which include the purchase of bulletproof weapons and vests, and leasing art from the Smithsonian for his office.

Kevin Chmielewski, who served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at the EPA, told Democratic lawmakers of these alleged spending abuses, which they summarized in letters to Pruitt and President Trump. The lawmakers also requested documents from Pruitt to confirm these allegations. Chmielewski said when he raised questions about Pruitt’s lavish habits, or tried to stop it, he was punished and ultimately placed on administrative leave.

The letters were sent by Senators Thomas Carper and Sheldon Whitehouse, and Representatives Elijah Cummings, Gerald Connolly and Donald S. Beyer Jr.

“He came forward, because as he said, ‘right is right and wrong is wrong,'” the lawmakers wrote in the letter to Pruitt. “The new information provided by Mr. Chmiewelski, if accurate, leaves us certain that your leadership at EPA has been fraught with numerous and repeated unethical and potentially illegal actions on a wide range of consequential matters that you and some members of your staff directed.

According to the letters, Chmielewski, who worked on Trump’s campaign before joining the EPA, told lawmakers Pruitt purchased bulletproof vests and weapons in the name of enhanced security, along with biometric locks, and that he entered into a $30,000 contract with a private Italian security personnel.

When it came time for traveling, Chmielewski said Pruitt told his drivers to surpass the speeding limit in residential areas and use sirens to allow him to bypass traffic on the way to both meetings and social events. Chmielewski also described how he had to stop Pruitt from renting a private jet, and that Pruitt would base his travel plans on his ability to see new places, visit his home state of Oklahoma, or incur frequent flier miles on Delta. Pruitt also allegedly exceeded the amount he was allowed to spend at hotels per night, and twice refused the recommendations from the U.S. embassy on international trips to Italy and Australia because he wanted to stay in more expensive locations.

Chmielewski said Pruitt’s Chief of Staff, Scott Jackson, raised concerns about these moves, and Pruitt promptly recommended he not attend any meetings to plan travel.

Chmielewski said Pruitt also abused spending for his office decorations, exceeding the $5,000 limit imposed on presidential appointees by, among other things, building a $43,000 soundproof phone booth and leasing art from the Smithsonian Museum. And he confirmed the report in the Atlantic earlier this month that Pruitt gave salary increases to his two favorite aides, subverting the White House after failing to get approval there. While Jackson took responsibility earlier this week and said Pruitt had no knowledge of what transpired, Chmielewski said Pruitt was fully aware. Pruitt denied any knowledge of the salary increases in an interview with Fox News last week.

The EPA did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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