WASHINGTON — Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt last year had a top aide help contact Republican donors who might offer his wife a job, eventually securing her a position at a conservative political group that has backed him for years, according to multiple individuals familiar with the matter.
The job hunt included Pruitt’s approaching wealthy party supporters and conservative figures with ties to the Trump administration. The individuals said he enlisted Samantha Dravis, then serving as associate administrator for the EPA’s Office of Policy, to line up work for his wife.
And when one donor, Doug Deason, said he could not hire Marlyn Pruitt because of a conflict of interest, Pruitt continued to solicit his help in trying to find other possibilities.
A spokesman for the Judicial Crisis Network confirmed Tuesday that it employed the onetime school nurse ‘‘temporarily as an independent contractor,’’ but it did not disclose via e-mail how long she worked there or what she was paid. The spokesman said the position came about after the group received her résumé from Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society. The two organizations have financial ties.
Leo is a prominent Pruitt backer and longtime friend who was involved in arrangements for the administrator’s visit to Italy last year. Taxpayers spent more than $100,000 on the trip, which included private tours of the Vatican and meals at some of Rome’s finest restaurants.
Marlyn Pruitt left the JCN earlier this year, the spokesman said, adding that the group was pleased with her work. But the search and hiring raises more ethics questions about Scott Pruitt’s use of EPA staff as well as his contacts with GOP contributors and outside allies for his personal benefit. Federal ethics rules prohibit public officials from using their posts for private gain or receiving free services or other gifts from their subordinates.
Virginia Canter, executive branch ethics counsel for the public watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in an interview that Pruitt’s having a full-time EPA employee ‘‘become the headhunter for his spouse’’ was ‘‘highly inappropriate’’ since the outcome of the search ‘‘would affect his financial interests.’’
‘‘It’s above and beyond anything I’m aware of, with respect to any government employee,’’ she said, with the fact that Leo accompanied Pruitt on the trip to Italy making the situation even more problematic.
Asked about the matter Tuesday, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement, ‘‘I would refer you to outside counsel.’’
Pruitt’s outside counsel, Cleta Mitchell — a political-law attorney at Foley & Lardner LLP, who also helped establish Pruitt’s legal defense fund — did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Marlyn Pruitt also did not respond to a request for comment.
The administrator already faces a dozen federal inquiries into his spending and management decisions at the agency, including his first-class travels, a $50-a-night condo rental from a lobbyist, and the installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in his office. At no point did he consult with EPA ethics officials about his monthslong efforts to get his wife a job, current and former agency officials said.
In several instances over the past 15 months, according to the individuals familiar with those overtures, Pruitt made overtures to corporate executives and prominent Republicans whom he had met either while serving as Oklahoma attorney general or after joining President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.
In 2017, for example, he approached Deason on whether the Dallas-based investor would be able to hire Marlyn Pruitt.