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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Trump Environment secretary spent millions on security, travel

Environment secretary Scott Pruitt is facing increasing pressure

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has spent millions of dollars of tax payers money on first class travel and private security details.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has spent millions of dollars of tax payers money on first class travel and private security details.

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt's concern with his safety came at a steep cost to taxpayers as his swollen security detail blew through overtime budgets and at times diverted officers away from investigating environmental crimes.

Altogether, the agency spent millions of dollars for a 20-member full-time detail that is more than three times the size of his predecessor's part-time security contingent.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox cited "unprecedented" threats against Mr Pruitt and his family as justification for extraordinary security expenses such as first-class airfare to keep him separate from most passengers — a perk generally not available to federal employees.

But Mr Pruitt apparently did not consider that upgrade vital to his safety when paying for his own flights. An EPA official with direct knowledge of Mr Pruitt's security spending said the EPA chief flew coach on personal trips where taxpayers weren't footing the bill.

The EPA official spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

New details in Mr Pruitt's expansive spending for security and travel emerged from agency sources and documents reviewed by The Associated Press. They come as the embattled EPA leader fends off allegations of profligate spending and ethical missteps that have imperiled his job.

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Shortly after arriving in Washington, Pruitt demoted the career staff member heading his security detail and replaced him with EPA Senior Special Agent Pasquale "Nino" Perrotta, a former Secret Service agent who operates a private security company.

The EPA official knowledgeable about Mr Pruitt's security spending says Mr Perrotta oversaw a rapid expansion of the EPA chief's security detail to accommodate guarding him day and night, even on family vacations and when Mr Pruitt was home in Oklahoma.

Mr Perrotta also signed off on new procedures that let Mr Pruitt fly first-class on commercial airliners, with the security chief typically sitting next to him with other security staff farther back in the plane. Mr Pruitt's premium status gave him and his security chief access to VIP airport lounges.

The EPA official said there are legitimate concerns about Mr Pruitt's safety, given public opposition to his rollbacks of anti-pollution measures.

But Mr Pruitt's ambitious domestic and international travel led to rapidly escalating costs, with the security detail racking up so much overtime that many hit annual salary caps of about $160,000. The demands of providing 24-hour coverage even meant taking some investigators away from field work, such as when Mr Pruitt traveled to California for a family vacation.

The EPA official said total security costs approached $3 million when pay is added to travel expenses.

Mr Wilcox said Mr Pruitt has faced an unprecedented number of death threats against him and his family and "Americans should all agree that members of the President's cabinet should be kept safe from these violent threats."

A nationwide search of state and federal court records by AP found no case where anyone has been arrested or charged with threatening Mr Pruitt. EPA's press office did not respond Friday to provide details of any specific threats or arrests.

Mr Pruitt has said his use of first-class airfare was initiated following unpleasant interactions with other travelers. In one incident, someone yelled a profanity as he walked through the airport.

But on weekend trips home for Sooners football games, when taxpayers weren't paying for his ticket, the EPA official said Mr Pruitt flew coach.

At least three congressional Republicans and a chorus of Democrats have called for Mr Pruitt's ouster. But President Donald Trump is so far standing by him.

A review of Mr Pruitt's ethical conduct by White House officials is underway, adding to probes by congressional oversight committees and EPA's inspector general.

EPA's press office has refused to disclose the cost of Mr Pruitt's security or the size of his protective detail, saying doing so could imperil his personal safety.

But other sources within EPA and documents released through public information requests help provide a window into the ballooning costs.

In his first three months in office, before pricey overseas trips to Italy and Morocco, the price tag for Mr Pruitt's security detail hit more than $832,000, according to EPA documents released through a public information request.

Nearly three dozen EPA security and law enforcement agents were assigned to Mr Pruitt, according to a summary of six weeks of weekly schedules obtained by Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Those schedules show multiple EPA security agents accompanied Mr Pruitt on a family vacation to California that featured a day at Disneyland and a New Year's Day football game where his home state Oklahoma Sooners were playing in the Rose Bowl. Multiple agents also accompanied Mr Pruitt to a baseball game at the University of Kentucky and at his house outside Tulsa, during which no official EPA events were scheduled.

Mr Pruitt's predecessor, Gina McCarthy, had a security detail that numbered about a half dozen, less than a third the size of Pruitt's. She flew coach and was not accompanied by security during her off hours, like on weekend trips home to Boston.

Mr Pruitt was accompanied by nine aides and a security detail during a trip to Italy in June that cost more than $120,000. He visited the U.S. Embassy in Rome and took a private tour of the Vatican before briefly attending a meeting of G-7 environmental ministers in Bologna.