Top Pruitt aide at EPA also shopped for housing on his behalf
WASHINGTON — A top aide at the Environmental Protection Agency, who recently received a 33 percent raise from Administrator Scott Pruitt despite a lack of approval from the White House, helped shop for housing options for him and his wife last year, according to several individuals with knowledge of the matter.
Millan Hupp, 26, who serves as Pruitt’s director of scheduling and advance, contacted a local real estate firm last summer as the EPA chief was moving out of a $50-per-night rental condo owned by the wife of an energy and transportation lobbyist. Three individuals, including current and former EPA employees, said Hupp was the point person for Pruitt’s search.
Between July and September, Hupp corresponded with a real estate company and on some evenings and weekends went to view properties for rent or sale, according to two of the individuals. She typically used her private e-mail but at times contacted the company during work hours. At other times, Pruitt himself viewed properties, the individuals said.
‘‘This is not news,’’ EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox said in a statement. ‘‘The notion that government resources were used to assist in finding housing is categorically false. Administrator Pruitt and his wife looked at numerous housing options.’’
But Don Fox, the former acting director and general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics, said in an interview that federal officials are barred from enlisting one of their subordinates to do personal tasks for them, even if those take place during off hours.
‘‘There’s a general prohibition against misusing government resources, and employees are government resources,’’ Fox said. ‘‘It’s clearly personal, and frankly, it doesn’t matter if she did it 11 a.m. on a Tuesday or at 2 p.m. on a Saturday if, in fact, that was an expectation of the job.’’
The details of Hupp’s house-shopping on behalf of Pruitt mark the latest development in a string of ethical questions dogging the EPA chief. Pruitt has faced ongoing criticism and inquiries from government watchdogs and members of both parties on Capitol Hill.
The intensifying scrutiny has increased speculation about whether one of President Trump’s favorite and most effective Cabinet members can weather the most recent issues.
Midday at the White House, before a working lunch with Baltic leaders in the Cabinet Room, Trump was asked by reporters whether he still supports Pruitt. ‘‘I hope he’s going to be great,’’ Trump replied.
The White House did not respond to a request for specific comment on the new questions being raised about the EPA head. But multiple senior administration officials confirmed that the president had called Pruitt Monday night to convey his support. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly followed up with a call Tuesday morning to reinforce that message, officials said.
The president told Pruitt, ‘‘Keep your head up, keep fighting. We have your back,’’ according to these officials. CBS News first reported on the calls.
Hupp was one of two EPA employees who recently received significant raises despite a lack of White House approval. Her salary jumped nearly 33 percent last month, from $86,460 to $114,590.
After graduating in 2014 from Oklahoma State University, where she majored in hotel and restaurant administration, Hupp spent less than a year working at an Embassy Suites hotel near the Nashville airport as a business travel sales manager, according to her online résumé and LinkedIn page.
In early 2015, according to her résumé, Hupp went to work for Pruitt as his deputy finance director, where her duties included hunting for new donors and a role as ‘‘on-the-ground orchestrator of activity for the attorney general during political travel.’’
Around the same time, Hupp became a ‘‘financial and political consultant’’ for Pruitt’s two private fund-raising vehicles, Liberty 2.0 Super PAC and Oklahoma Strong Leadership PAC.
Another EPA employee, 30-year-old Sarah Greenwalt, who serves as Pruitt’s senior counsel after working with him in Oklahoma, also received a sharp raise in recent weeks. Her salary jumped more than 52 percent, from $107,435 to $164,200.