WASHINGTON (AP) – The fossil-fuels lobbyist tied to the bargain-priced Capitol Hill condo leased by Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is taking early retirement as a result of the scandal.
J. Steven Hart sent an email to friends and colleagues on Friday announcing he’s leaving Williams & Jensen, the powerhouse Washington lobbying firm where he served as chairman. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the email, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Hart, 64, said he was planning to retire in November, but that the intense scrutiny resulting from the unusual rental arrangement with the head of the EPA led him to expedite his departure.
Media reports first disclosed last month that Pruitt paid just $50-a-night for the condo to a corporation co-owned by Hart’s wife, who is also a lobbyist, triggering several ethics investigations.
In his email to friends, the veteran Washington insider attempted to make light of the issue.
“I want to thank so many of you who have taken the time to send me and Vicki notes and flowers as we learned a new and personal meaning of ‘Fake News’ and ‘Real Friends,’” Hart wrote. “They say if you need a friend in Washington, get a dog. We now know that adage is not always accurate.”
The embattled EPA administrator has described Hart as a personal friend and insisted that he paid a market rate for the condo, though comparable properties nearby are publicly listed at more than double what he paid.
EPA’s press office did not respond to a request for comment.
A chorus of Democrats and a growing list of Republicans have called for Pruitt’s ouster amid a string of ethics issues, including questions about his use of first class air travel and such pricey security precautions as a $43,000 anti-eavesdropping phone booth for his office.
EPA’s inspector general announced earlier this week he will review spending by Pruitt’s full-time security detail, the latest in about a dozen ongoing investigations related to Pruitt by various government agencies.
Prior to being tapped by Trump to lead EPA, Pruitt served as the elected attorney general of Oklahoma. Hart’s firm represents OGE Energy Corp., one of the state’s electric utilities.
Campaign finance records show the lobbyist hosted a 2014 fundraiser for Pruitt’s state re-election effort where more than three dozen OGE executives cut checks, even though he was running without a Democratic opponent.
Once Pruitt arrived at EPA, copies of his daily calendar obtained by AP through a public records request show he meet with two top OGE executives and a registered lobbyist from Hart’s firm in March 2017, when he was living at the condo.
In October, EPA announced it would rewrite the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation that sought to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants like those operated by OGE, which paid Hart’s firm $400,000 in lobbying fees last year.
Follow Associated Press environmental reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck
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