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Memo says Pruitt flew first class to avoid 'lashing out from passengers'

Documents provided to Congress fail to show Scott Pruitt got federally required waivers to fly first class -- and if ...

Posted: May 10, 2018 1:26 PM
Updated: May 10, 2018 1:27 PM

Documents provided to Congress fail to show Scott Pruitt got federally required waivers to fly first class -- and if he did, then his office has twice declined to hand them over to fellow Republicans asking for the verification.

Instead, in response to two requests for the waivers, the Environmental Protection Agency provided investigators with only two memos, according to the House Oversight Committee.

CNN separately obtained the memos, which state that people have recognized Pruitt and the occasional "lashing out from passengers" could "endanger his life" if he continues to fly in coach.

The limited nature of the two memos, along with a past claim by his spokesman, suggests the EPA administrator violated federal rules by failing to obtain a justification for the upgrades before each trip.

The EPA has previously defended Pruitt's travel and security arrangements, but did not respond to questions from CNN before the publication of this story about the memos or whether Pruitt obtained the required waivers.

After publication, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said, "We are working diligently with (House Oversight) Chairman (Trey) Gowdy and are in full cooperation in providing the Committee with the necessary documents, travel vouchers, receipts and witnesses to his inquiries."

Pruitt had been asked twice -- in February and April -- by Gowdy, a fellow Republican, to provide any waivers exempting him from regulations requiring federal employees to typically fly in standard coach seats.

The two memos were part of 1,700 pages of documents turned over at the request of South Carolina's Gowdy. The documents include vouchers for all of Pruitt's official travel since he was confirmed and for EPA, vouchers for staff who went on international trips to Italy and Morocco, emails regarding Pruitt's lease of a room from a lobbyist's wife, and EPA correspondence between that lobbyist and other employees of his firm.

In addition, Gowdy's office was able to review travel vouchers for members of Pruitt's security detail, according to his office.

The flights are among several alleged ethical transgressions or questionable spending practices that have landed Pruitt in the spotlight of multiple investigative bodies, including Gowdy's committee, the EPA inspector general, and the Government Accountability Office.

Gowdy's request for the waivers was prompted by a Politico article from February in which Wilcox said Pruitt was granted a "blanket waiver" to travel in first class for security reasons.

The next day, Wilcox's story changed. Politico reported that federal regulations specifically prohibit "blanket authorization, and Wilcox changed his statement, saying a waiver was submitted "for every trip."

While the EPA has not provided detailed waivers, it has handed over more than 1,700 pages of documents in response to multiple requests relating to Pruitt's travel habits, unprecedented security, and sweetheart condo deal from an energy lobbyist, according to Gowdy's office.

But one memo indicates there was only one request for a waiver. It's dated May 1, 2017, and is a request from the acting security chief that Pruitt "be strategically seated in business and or first class seating when on official travel."

"We have observed and (sic) increased awareness and at times lashing out from passengers which occurs while the Administrator is seated in coach with PSD (Protective Services Detail) not easily accessible to him due to uncontrolled full flights," the memo reads.

"Therefore, we believe that the continued use of coach seats for the Administrator would endanger his life," the memo continues.

The second memo is a response from Acting Controller Jeanne Conklin, whose office oversees compliance with spending regulations.

Conklin wrote she "determined your request complies with criteria" for allowing first or business class seats, and pointed the Administrator's office to a specific paragraph of government travel regulations.

That paragraph states upgraded travel is allowed if "use of coach-class accommodations would endanger your life or Government property."

That regulation also requires the justification for upgraded seats be prepared for each trip.

"Blanket authorization of other than coach-class transportation accommodations is prohibited and shall be authorized on an individual trip-by-trip basis, unless the traveler has an up-to-date documented disability or special need," the regulation reads.

Update: This story has been updated to add the statement EPA gave to CNN after initial publication.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 28770

Reported Deaths: 1092
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds224739
DeSoto144216
Madison124234
Jones109149
Neshoba97070
Lauderdale89479
Rankin86012
Forrest82942
Harrison79410
Scott75715
Copiah58016
Leake56519
Jackson55716
Holmes53641
Wayne52212
Lee51816
Oktibbeha51625
Washington5129
Yazoo4786
Leflore47449
Warren46317
Lowndes45912
Lincoln43734
Lamar4317
Grenada3965
Pike39312
Monroe37529
Lafayette3684
Attala35523
Newton3329
Sunflower3216
Covington3175
Bolivar29813
Panola2956
Adams28018
Simpson2713
Chickasaw26418
Tate2648
Marion26311
Pontotoc2616
Jasper2516
Noxubee2478
Pearl River24532
Clay24410
Winston2446
Claiborne23910
Marshall2123
Smith21111
Clarke20424
Coahoma1906
Union1819
Walthall1794
Kemper17614
Yalobusha1667
Lawrence1621
Carroll16111
Humphreys1309
Itawamba1308
Tippah12711
Webster12610
Calhoun1244
Montgomery1242
Hancock12313
Tallahatchie1153
Jefferson Davis1074
Prentiss1003
Greene968
Jefferson963
Wilkinson929
Tunica903
Amite842
George753
Tishomingo731
Choctaw724
Quitman690
Perry634
Alcorn601
Stone541
Franklin392
Benton270
Sharkey270
Issaquena81
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 41362

Reported Deaths: 983
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson4532143
Montgomery3875102
Mobile3797134
Tuscaloosa210739
Marshall162210
Lee124537
Shelby110923
Madison11047
Morgan10203
Walker87123
Franklin86314
Dallas8419
Elmore83614
Baldwin7359
Etowah64413
DeKalb6415
Butler60727
Chambers60027
Tallapoosa57269
Autauga55312
Unassigned50724
Russell5030
Lowndes45820
Lauderdale4576
Houston4464
Limestone4290
Cullman4114
Pike4075
Colbert3775
Bullock3649
Coffee3592
Barbour3331
Covington3327
St. Clair3192
Marengo29911
Hale29621
Escambia2936
Wilcox2848
Talladega2827
Calhoun2805
Sumter27912
Clarke2686
Dale2620
Jackson2522
Winston2373
Blount2181
Pickens2176
Chilton2152
Marion20613
Monroe2052
Choctaw19212
Randolph1889
Conecuh1866
Greene1788
Macon1778
Bibb1761
Perry1541
Henry1303
Crenshaw1243
Washington1027
Lawrence1000
Cherokee797
Lamar711
Geneva700
Fayette671
Clay612
Coosa571
Cleburne301
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