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Pruitt’s conflicts of interest trace back to before the EPA, says investigation

EPA chief Scott Pruitt's troubles in Washington have “echoes in his past” when he was attorney general of Oklahoma, according to The New York Times. It found that Pruitt purchased a home from a lobbyist using a shell company that he did not disclose to state ethics officials. As head of the EPA, Pruitt has been criticized for his spending on furniture, security and travel. Steve Eder of The New York Times joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    On this Earth Day the Environmental Protection Agency is also in the news not for the successes and failures of its core mission but for the actions of its leader Scott Pruitt. Scott Pruitt had an apartment in D.C. for an incredibly low fifty dollars a day. That apartment was owned by a lobbyist's wife. Now there are records showing that the lobbyist J. Stephen Hart met with Pruitt last year. Both the EPA and Hart's firm previously denied any meetings during that time Pruitt rented the condo in 2017 or any time after. The firm now says the meeting was personal. Besides That possible conflict of interest Pruitt's critics point to excessive spending on travel furniture security and pay raises for AIDS. Some now rescinded the EPA chief who was previously elected Oklahoma attorney general came to Washington promising to roll back regulations cut the agency's staff and repeal Obama administration environmental policies. The New York Times reports this weekend that some of the behaviors Pruitt is in the spotlight for now were also happening during his time in public office in Oklahoma. Joining me now is New York Times investigative reporter Steve Eder and you also reported with Hiroko Tabuchi on this story. First of all tell us what you found?

  • STEVE EDER:

    You know we set out to try to get a better understanding of Scott Pruitt in Oklahoma and understand kind of what we're seeing now versus his years there and our reporting ended up up centering around you know his ability to kind of blend to some extent his relationships that he had in the business side with political relationships, and brought it to a house during his years in the state Senate that he had purchased with a group of other investors through a shell company that was near the near the statehouse in Oklahoma City in the state capitol. And we started looking at that. It turned out that it was a purchase that involved SBC now AT&T, the telecom company. And you know it just sort raising the questions about kind of the blurring of the lines that's gone on with with Scott Pruitt over the years as it relates to ethical questions and business and politics.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And what about the transaction to get a better deal on it. Now we were talking about the 50 dollar a day kind of situation in D.C. What was a situation in Oklahoma?

  • STEVE EDER:

    The lobbyist who had owned the home had bought it a year earlier when Pruitt's group came in. They were able to buy it at 100,000 dollar discount from the purchase price a year earlier. It's a complicated sale on AT&T's perspective on it was that they had it appraised for a price that was similar to what Pruitt and his group paid at that time. But then again a year later Pruitt and his group sold the home actually about two years later sold the home for back up to the original price from that 470 to 475000 dollars so the numbers in there did did raise some questions.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You know people are going to watch this is OK. Why does it matter about a house that he had some stake in years and years ago. What is the pattern that you're trying to establish and are the same people involved in any of the stuff that he's working on today?

  • STEVE EDER:

    Well two parts of that that are that are important to think about one is that it's important understand whether the issues that have arisen in 2017, 2018 stand alone or whether they trend back to the time in Oklahoma and that's definitely part of what we set out to try to understand you know the person whose name was registered on this LLC that bought the home. You know as an individual who's a who's a senior aide working closely with Pruitt now at the EPA there's several different business dealings over the years where they were involved and then the bank that ended up providing the mortgage on the property was headed by yet another a person who now works at the EPA with Scott Pruitt.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So these were colleagues were business associates of him in Oklahoma at the time that facilitated this transaction. And now they are part of the EPA today?

  • STEVE EDER:

    Right. So there was a connective tissue between these folks over the years.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Scott Pruitt has come in to say I'm kind of deregulator in chief most of the EPA that this is these are my goals. Has he been effective. Because on the one hand the environmental community says this is you know disastrous. He's going to roll back clean water and clean power clean air standards etc. What's actually passed and what's happened?

  • STEVE EDER:

    Yeah I think that what's going on that's kind of interesting when you look at the agenda that they've been effective to some extent and coming out with high deregulatory agenda a lot of specifics that have gone out over the past year and a half or not quite a year and a half yet. But at the same time these types of headlines on the ethics front and the questions that have arisen suddenly you're also dealing with a myriad of other issues that that could distract from that.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Well what's the response been from Scott Pruitt or the office?

  • STEVE EDER:

    Know they said that this particular transaction that we were discussing was you know arm's length was was a joke just a simple real estate deal and you know nothing more to it and that they hold themselves to a high standard.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right Steve Eder of The New York Times thanks so much.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Thank you.

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