WASHINGTON (CN) – Kevin Chmielewski, a former aide to Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, added allegations of wasteful spending and retaliation to an already growing pile of ethics concerns swirling around the former Oklahoma attorney general.
Chmielewski, formerly deputy chief of staff for operations at the EPA, told a group of Democratic lawmakers this week that the administrator fired him after he refused to approve first class travel for Pruitt aide and head of the EPA’s Office of Policy, Samantha Dravis.
Pruitt invited Dravis to join him last December for a promotional trip to Morocco shilling U.S. natural gas exports.
The allegations presented “grave concerns” to lawmakers, according to a letter released Thursday by Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Tom Carper of Delaware, Virginia Reps. Gerry Connolly and Don Beyer; and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland.
In the eight page letter to Pruitt, the lawmakers write: “Mr. Chmielewski provided new details and corroborated other reports regarding allegations of wasteful spending on taxpayer funds and your disregard for the ethical and legal requirements of your position. [He] described an environment in which you sought to marginalize, remove or otherwise retaliate against agency employees who advised you not to take these troubling actions or refused to take or justify such actions at your direction.”
Before joining the EPA, Chmielewski worked as a campaign aide to Donald Trump.
After coming aboard the agency, Chmielewski claimed he watched Pruitt spend taxpayer funds on everything from bulletproof vests and biometric locks to brand new vehicles and décor for his office to a $30,000 contract for private security guards from Italy.
When he refused to approve “inappropriate” spending, the letter states, Chmielewski alleges he was marginalized and eventually removed from his position before being placed on administrative leave.
A copy of the letter was also sent to the president. Trump has only voiced support for Pruitt as questions around the administrator’s spending and leadership at the EPA have ramped up.
Last week, as Pruitt came under renewed scrutiny for leasing a Washington, D.C. condo – owned in part by a prominent energy lobbyist – Trump told reporters at an event in West Virginia the EPA head was doing a “fantastic job.”
Pruitt allegedly stayed in the D.C. condo for just $50 per night, far below market rate but was consistently late on the payments when he paid at all. The supposed sweetheart deal is believed to run afoul of various ethics rules established by Congress.
Chmielewski also disputed Pruitt’s recounting of pay raises given to two of his top aides.
Pruitt told Fox News last week he “didn’t know” about the raises. But according to allegations by his one-time deputy of operations, the increases were “100 percent Pruitt himself.”
After the alleged run-in with Dravis and Pruitt, Chmielewski also told lawmakers he was informed by Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, that his boss “wished to fire or reassign him,” the letter states.
Though an EPA representative did not immediately respond to request for comment Thursday, Politico reported Dravis has disputed Chmielewski’s account. Dravis claims she neither requested the upgrade nor approved it.
Chmielewski said he was finally dismissed from the agency in February.
Lawmakers have requested Pruitt turn over copies of emails, meeting minutes and memos related to the allegations as well as any documents detailing his numerous requests of the agency – one of which included an inquiry into the purchase of a $100,000 private plane for Pruitt’s use.
“The new information provided by Mr. Chmielewski, 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,” lawmakers wrote.
Pruitt has been requested to respond to their request no later than April 25.