Congress grills EPA chief over allegations of ethics violations

WASHINGTON — A defiant Scott Pruitt dismissed the ethics investigations into his leadership of the Environmental Protection Agency as “half-truths” and falsehoods generated by critics who want to damage the Trump administration.

“Facts are facts and fiction is fiction, and a lie does not become true just because it appears on the front page of the newspaper,” Pruitt told the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday.

Pruitt said he must take responsibility as head of the agency, but he offered no apology in the face of mounting pressure to resign.

Asked directly whether he had remorse, “yes or no?,” Pruitt dodged the question and said he’s since changed his first-class travel habits.

In another instance, Pruitt blamed his staff for giving unauthorized pay raises to certain aides and for spending $43,000 to install a soundproof booth in his office.

“If I had known about it, I would have refused it,” said Pruitt.

It’s the first time Pruitt faced Congress since a swirl of reports and investigations emerged about his conduct and character. He equated the ongoing ethical investigations into his spending as an assault on Trump.

“Those who have attacked the EPA and attacked me are doing so because they want to derail the president’s agenda … I’m simply not going to let that happen,” Pruitt said.

He said the stories about his lavish travel, expensive security detail, a $50-a-night condo that he rented from a lobbyist and more are “so twisted,” they don’t resemble reality. He admitted the investigations are a “distraction” from his agenda, and “that troubles me.”

Democrats dismissed Pruitt’s pushback.

“The more we have learned, the worse they get,” Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) said of the allegations. “At this point, we must ask if the inspector general will have the resources needed to investigate the administrator’s seemingly endless misconduct.”

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) hammered Pruitt as unfit for office.

“You really should resign,” Pallone said. “You aren’t deserving of the public trust.”

“I think your actions are an embarrassment to President Trump … If I were the president, I wouldn’t want your help.”

Allies of Pruitt circulated a 23-page defense of the embattled administrator in advance of his high-profile testimony.

Pruitt’s office gave the document to several Capitol Hill lawmakers to debunk what they believe are “false claims.”

“Pruitt’s international travel has been criticized despite the fact he has taken fewer international trips and spent less money than his two predecessors: Gina McCarthy and Lisa Jackson,” the document said.

Republicans on the committee largely stood by Pruitt as what is needed to roll back Obama-era “radical” policies on clean air, water and environmental protections.

“I am generally pleased with the direction you are taking the EPA,” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.).

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said Pruitt was a “victim of Washington politics.” Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) said the personal attacks on Pruitt’s character were “shameful.”

Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) blamed Democrats for grandstanding at the hearing, calling it “a classic display of innuendo and McCarthyism.”

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