AP FACT CHECK: EPA's Pruitt and his bargain condo deal
By MICHAEL BIESECKER and CALVIN WOODWARD
May. 17, 2018
WASHINGTON (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt has falsely claimed that a man who was listed as the landlord of a bargain-priced condo Pruitt rented in Washington last year was not a lobbyist at the time. Steven Hart was in fact a registered lobbyist when Pruitt used the apartment and was working to advance the interests of an energy company with matters before the EPA.
Pruitt misstated the record on multiple occasions Wednesday in lengthy testimony to a Senate committee that looked into the ethical and policy questions swirling around his tenure at EPA. Here's a sampling:
PRUITT: "Steve Hart is someone that was not registered as a lobbyist in 2017. He's a longtime associate and friend."
THE FACTS: That's wrong. Disclosure reports show Hart was a registered lobbyist for 35 separate entities in 2017. Among those he represented was Cheniere Energy, which owns the only operational liquefied natural gas export terminal in the U.S. The reports show Hart worked on "Issues related to the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG), approval of LNG exports and export facilities."
Pruitt has been a vocal booster of LNG exports while at EPA, even taking a taxpayer-funded trip to Morocco in December to help persuade the North African kingdom to import more gas from U.S. producers. Such increases in LNG exports would probably benefit Cheniere.
Pruitt rented the luxury Capitol Hill condo from a corporation co-owned by Hart's wife for just $50 a night, only paying on nights when he stayed there. A copy of the lease, reviewed by The Associated Press, shows Steven Hart was originally listed as the landlord but his name was scratched out and substituted with that of his wife, a health policy lobbyist. Pruitt used the condo last year from March through at least August.
In past public comments, Pruitt claimed Hart had no business before EPA in 2017. That turned out not to be true, either.
Records show Hart met with Pruitt in his office at EPA headquarters last year and the lobbyist emailed with EPA staff on behalf of his client Smithfield Foods. The meeting happened in July 2017, during the condo rental period, and was described by Hart last month as a discussion about the Chesapeake Bay. Smithfield and its charitable foundation have been involved with efforts to clean up the bay since EPA fined the company $12.6 million in 1997 for illegally dumping hog waste into a tributary.
In addition to the companies he personally represented, Hart was the top executive at the powerhouse lobbying firm Williams & Jensen before retiring early as a result of the scandal over Pruitt's condo deal. Records show Hart's former firm represented a lengthy roster of companies last year with billions at stake over regulatory decisions made by EPA, including ExxonMobil Corp., the world's largest publicly traded international oil and gas company.
SEN. TOM UDALL, Democrat of New Mexico: "Do you see a conflict of interest in accepting a pretty good housing deal from a lobbyist couple that has business before the EPA?"
PRUITT: "Senator, the ethics officials at the agency actually — actually had performed two ethics reviews, saying that the lease terms are consistent with comparable rates in the marketplace."
THE FACTS: EPA ethics officials were only asked to review Pruitt's 2017 condo lease after news broke about the administrator's unusual living arrangement. EPA lawyer Kevin Minoli, who wrote the reviews, later said he only considered the lease as written, specifically the claim that Pruitt only rented one bedroom for the $50 nightly rate. But it was later disclosed that Pruitt's daughter, who was a summer intern at the White House, occupied a second bedroom at no cost.
Because he only paid for the nights he was there, Pruitt forked over a total of $6,100 over the six-month period he leased the property, an average of about $1,000 a month.
Recent rental listings for two-bedroom apartments in the neighborhood show they typically go for far more than what Pruitt paid. A two-bedroom townhome on the same block as the one leased by Pruitt was advertised for rent in April at $3,750 a month. Another two-bedroom unit on the next block was advertised as available for $4,740 a month.
Quarterly lobbying disclosure reports for 2017:
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