The federal government’s top ethics official suggested Friday he is considering a "formal corrective action proceeding" regarding alleged improper behavior by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a perhaps unprecedented step against a sitting member of the president’s Cabinet.
The head of the independent Office of Government Ethics urged EPA’s in-house watchdog to expand its ongoing investigations to review the latest allegations about Pruitt, including that he used EPA resources to find a job for his wife. OGE will look into the findings of that probe to decide how to proceed, acting OGE Director David Apol wrote in a letter to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins on Friday.
"We ask you to complete your report, as soon as possible, so that we can decide whether to begin a formal corrective action proceeding in order to make a formal recommendation to the President," Apol wrote.
President Donald Trump said earlier Friday that he was "not happy about certain things" with his embattled administrator, although he praised the "fantastic job" Pruitt is doing at EPA. Trump did not elaborate on what made him unhappy.
If Apol eventually launches such a proceeding and OGE investigators determine Pruitt probably violated ethics rules, OGE would send the matter to the president for his decision, with nonbinding recommendations for disciplinary action.
An OGE spokesperson told POLITICO the office is unaware of the agency ever before initiating a formal corrective action proceeding against any federal official, let alone a Cabinet member.
Walter Shaub, the former OGE chief who resigned last year after blasting the Trump administration for alleged ethical violations, said a formal proceeding may have been launched once or twice several decades ago but that informal procedures have allowed OGE to address its concerns since then. Shaub praised Apol’s letter.
"This latest move by OGE is a very good thing and, given the turning tide against Pruitt, may help produce a result," Shaub told POLITICO in an email. "Way to go, OGE!"
Shaub also wrote on Twitter: “That’s my old agency coming down on you, @EPAScottPruitt. (Way to go OGE!) It’s time for you to go. You’re literally going to be THE case study in training for future cabinet officials. In case you don’t know, your name is already a verb in govt ethics circles in and out of govt.”
Before launching its own probe, OGE must first outline its concerns to ethics officials within an agency. Apol did that in April, when he asked EPA’s top ethics official, Kevin Minoli, to scrutinize Pruitt’s decision to rent a Capitol Hill condo from the wife of a lobbyist representing clients before EPA. (Minoli subsequently referred the issues to Elkins’ office, which traditionally handles ethics matters that require investigative authority.)
Apol’s Friday letter specifically cites reports about Pruitt using EPA aides and resources to seek employment for his wife from Chick-fil-A executives and elsewhere, as well as emails and former aides’ testimony that he used EPA staff to run personal errands.
The OIG is already reviewing earlier related allegations, Apol noted. "OGE now requests that you also investigate and analyze the newly alleged conduct."
"The American public needs to have confidence that ethics violations, as well as the appearance of ethics violations, are investigated and properly addressed," Apol wrote. "The efficacy of, and public trust in, our Government demands it."
If the inspector general’s investigation does not satisfy Apol, the ethics office is empowered to conduct its own investigation into possible non-criminal ethics violations. Alleged criminal ethics violations must be investigated by the FBI or other law enforcement agencies.
Several House Democrats have referred Pruitt to the FBI and Justice Department for potential criminal charges. Pruitt’s actions “may have crossed a line into criminal conduct punishable by fines or even by time in prison,” they wrote. It is unclear whether the FBI will investigate Pruitt; the bureau rarely comments on whether an investigation even exists.
The original story can be found here.
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