EPA Watchdog Reviewing Pruitt’s Trips Home to Oklahoma

WASHINGTON (CN) – The inspector general at the Environmental Protection Agency has opened an inquiry into Administrator Scott Pruitt’s frequent taxpayer-funded travel to his home in Oklahoma.

The office notified Pruitt in a letter Monday that it would audit his travel records through the end of July.

The letter says the investigation was spurred by a congressional request and a hotline complaint.

The inspector general says the inquiry will seek to determine the extent and cost of Pruitt’s trips, as well as his security team and aides who travelled with him. The audit will also examine whether EPA’s travel policies and procedures were violated.

Pruitt spent 43 of 92 days in Oklahoma over the spring, racking up more than $12,000 in airfare, according to documents  the Environmental Integrity Project  obtained through a Freedom of Information Act.

In addition to the cost and frequency of Pruitt’s travel through July 31, investigators will also review whether or not all of the agency’s travel policies and procedures were followed during Pruitt’s trips and if current EPA policies are sufficient to prevent from waste, fraud and abuse.

But Pruitt isn’t the only person at the EPA coming under scrutiny. The letter says the travel of several other department managers and employees will also be reviewed.  The inspector general said the investigation will be carried out in collaboration with the EPA’s Finance Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In an interview with a local Oklahoma news station, FOX 25, Pruitt said the FOIA was initiated by an “alt-EPA.” He called criticisms of his frequent travel — and rumors that he has traveled to and from Oklahoma in anticipation of running for elected office there — “wrong” and “not accurate.”

This is the second time in so many weeks that a federal official has come under scrutiny for allegedly controversial spending habits.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and wife Louise Linton, raised eyebrows when the couple traveled with Senator Mitch McConnell, R.- Ky., during last week’s solar eclipse. McConnell’s home was in the path of totality and reports emerged that the secretary and his wife observed the eclipse atop the nearby Fort Knox.

Minton posted a photo of herself and her husband on Instagram as they disembarked a government plane to attend the viewing.

Shortly after the photos emerged online, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, filed a Freedom of Information Act request demanding the Treasury Department turn over financial records showing authorization for and the costs of the Mnuchin and Linton’s trip.

The Treasury has since said that Mnuchin traveled to Kentucky to discuss tax reform with McConnell.

Attention to the couple’s trip exploded after Linton lashed out at Jenni Miller, a woman who left a comment on the Linton’s Instagram photo documenting the day. In her post, Linton listed the designer brands she wore on her trip, calling her travel with her husband “a great #daytrip.”

Miller then commented on the photo, criticizing Linton for bragging about designer duds while so many face uncertain financial futures. Linton, in an irate, lengthy response, belittled Miller on social media, saying that the woman was “adorably out of touch” and that she and her husband have contributed more to the U.S. in tax dollars than Miller had.

After backlash, Linton made the account private and deleted it. She later apologized to Miller.

According to a Tweet by Mnuchin, he is the first treasury secretary to visit Fort Knox in 70 years. This also tipped CREW off.

“That picture was clearly of a government plane, so that raised questions of what the relationship was of her to the trip, and what she was doing there,” said CREW spokesperson Jordan Libowitz during an interview with CNBC on Friday.

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