Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks with auto industry leaders in Washington on Tuesday after signing a notice that he was scrapping the Obama administration’s car fuel standards. (Andrew Harnik/AP)This post has been updated.
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 email but at times contacted the company during work hours. At other times, Pruitt himself viewed properties, the individuals said.
“This is not news,” EPA spokesman 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.”
Hupp, who previously helped run a pair of political fundraising committees on Pruitt’s behalf in Oklahoma, was one of two EPA employees who recently received significant raises, despite a lack of White House approval. Hupp’s 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 fundraising vehicles, Liberty 2.0 Super PAC and Oklahoma Strong Leadership PAC. In that role, she solicited donations to his political coffers and scheduled fundraising meetings and travel for him. Hupp was paid about $76,000 from the two PACs during 2015 and 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Her sister, Sydney Hupp, also worked for the organizations on behalf of Pruitt, records show. Sydney Hupp spent four months last year as an “executive scheduler” for Pruitt, according to her LinkedIn profile. The profile states that she now works for a Republican political consulting firm, Absolute Resource Development, that lists Pruitt — in his capacity as the Oklahoma attorney general — as one of its clients.
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.
To hand out such raises, Pruitt used an obscure provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act after the White House refused to boost the two women’s pay, according to two people with firsthand knowledge of the matter.
According to these individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters, Pruitt reappointed both staff members under the authority of the act. That law allows the EPA chief to hire up to 30 people without presidential or congressional approval, which gave Pruitt the ability to set their salary levels himself.
The move to raise the two salaries, first reported Tuesday morning by the Atlantic, is the latest example of Pruitt’s unorthodox approach to running the EPA and using federal money. Congressional Democrats and some ethics experts are increasingly questioning aspects of his leadership and operation.
He is already under scrutiny on several fronts, including his frequent first-class travel, which aides attribute to the elevated security threat he has faced, and his arrangement with the wife of an energy and transportation lobbyist to rent her Capitol Hill condo unit last year for $50 a night. Under that rental agreement, Pruitt paid only for lodging on the nights when he stayed in the condo and did not pay an additional fee for his adult daughter to occupy a separate bedroom there.
While the White House did not respond immediately for a request for comment, multiple senior administration officials confirmed Tuesday that President Trump called Pruitt Monday night to convey his support. White House Chief of Staff John F. 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.
The two staffers suddenly in the spotlight both accompanied Pruitt on his trips to Italy and Morocco last year.