EPA's Pruitt faces senators' question on spending, security

Asked Friday if he still had confidence in Pruitt, Trump told reporters, "I do".

"Oh, somebody might criticize you?"

Pruitt appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday to discuss the EPA's 2019 budget, bur the hearing quickly turned into a grill session as Democrats demanded answers as to why Pruitt allegedly used taxpayer dollars for first class flights, security detail and office renovations.

Pruitt brushed aside allegations he improperly requested the use of emergency lights and sirens while being driven through Washington in a government vehicle. The subcommittee's chairman, Sen. Tom Udall ( D-N.M.), who pressed the EPA chief on an array of allegations, including that he had used lights and sirens to make his way more quickly to Le Diplomate, a trendy French restaurant in Washington where Pruitt likes to have dinner.

"I don't recall", Pruitt said.

"It's my understanding that all activity there was on personal time, and the individual that you are referring to is a longtime friend of my wife, and myself", Pruitt said.

Pruitt confirmed the proposed Superfund budget cut, adding, "Sometimes, I'm not as persuasive as I want to be with OMB".

Udall submitted for the record on an email released on Wednesday by Pruitt's former security chief Nino Perrotta, who left the agency weeks ago.

New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, the subcommittee's top Democrat, cited the Government Accountability Office's finding in April that Pruitt's purchase of a $43,000 private office booth for telephone calls broke federal law because the EPA failed to notify Congress in advance of an expenditure over $5,000.

Perrotta, who wrote the email about the use of lights and sirens, also drafted a memo previous year saying Pruitt needed to fly in premium class seats because of security threats. Perrotta has since resigned.

But Udall asked him repeatedly if he encouraged the action.

"Some of the areas of criticism are frankly areas where processes at the agency were not properly instituted to prevent certain abuses from happening", Pruitt said.

At the beginning of the hearing, Republican Sen.

"It has been set up", Pruitt told the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies about the fund. "I'm sick and exhausted of messing around with this anymore", Grassley said.

The agency is also weighing creating a legal drinking water threshold for PFOA and PFOS, he said.

Pruitt then told Udall that Hupp wasn't paid for this work. He then said that as a former state attorney general from Oklahoma, he supports prosecutors and their work.

Pruitt is now under investigation for travel costs, pay raises for aides, and retaliation against whistle blowers among other allegations.

He didn't directly answer Van Hollen's yes or no question on whether he would accept anonymous donations for the fund: "Whatever the discussions with GAO, White House council's office yields in that regard we will follow", Pruitt said.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox repeated the assertion Monday that EPA security staff, not Pruitt, made the decision to increase the administrator's security.

A letter from the agency's inspector general also contradicted Pruitt and the EPA's claim that the need for a 24/7 security detail was a response to an assessment of death threats against him.

According to the inspector general, Pruitt maintains at least three email accounts that are flagged as "administrative use". The Washington Post first reported last month that Hupp, who now serves as EPA's head of scheduling and advance, contacted a Washington real estate firm and individual homeowners to view properties.

Among Pruitt's guests at a dinner in Italy previous year was Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican official who has been charged with sexual abuse.

Vanessa Coleman