Former EPA Staffer Says Pruitt Lied To Congress About Retaliating Against Him

UNITED STATES - APRIL 26: EPA Director Scott Pruitt  testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building titled "The FY2019 Environmental Protection Agency Budget," on April 26, 2018. In addition to the budget, Pruitt faced questions about controversies that have occurred at the agency during his tenure. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Tom Williams

An EPA whistleblower who claims he was forced out of the agency after raising concerns about Administrator Scott Pruitt’s spending now says Pruitt lied to Congress during testimony last week, ABC News reported Monday.

The whistleblower, former EPA deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski, is a former Trump campaign staffer who first emerged as an example of Pruitt’s administrative retaliation in a the New York Times report earlier this month. He’s since spoken extensively to several lawmakers’ staffs.

In a largely evasive and blame-shifting day on Capitol Hill, Pruitt repeated one point to subcommittee members on both the House Energy and Commerce and Appropriations committees: There were no career consequences for EPA employees, he said, as a result of their raising concerns about his spending. Pruitt, ABC News noted, claimed Chmielewski had resigned.

ABC News reported Monday that it had obtained a form filled out by EPA HR personnel saying Chmielewski resigned on March 17. But Chmielewski’s signature isn’t on the paperwork, and he claimed to the network that he was forced out a month earlier.

Chmielewski told ABC News he recalled EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson telling him: “Hey — Administrator Pruitt either wants me to fire you or put you in an office so that he doesn’t have to see you again.”

The former EPA staffer said he was “100 percent” forced out of his job after objecting to Pruitt’s spending, starting with his refusal to authorize first class flights for an aide of Pruitt’s. Chmielewski has previously told lawmakers that he believed the retaliation began after he refused to authorize a first class flight for Samantha Dravis, a former top EPA staffer, on a trip home from Morocco in December.

“I refused to do it,” Chmielewski told ABC News of the first class authorization. “And, once again, I think that was some of the beginning of the retaliation, and why you know, cause I said absolutely not. And I kinda got in trouble behind closed doors for not signing that. Just Kevin, ‘Sign it. You know, be done with it.’ And the last thing I was doing was signing off on that.”

“They didn’t wanna touch it with a ten-foot pole,” Chmielewski said of White House officials with whom he shared his concerns about Pruitt. “Understandably. I mean, at this point I’m going up against a Cabinet secretary. Who wants to do that? I sure didn’t want to, and still don’t want to. But that’s apparently where I’m at now.”

Documents released by the EPA’s inspector general indicate Chmielewski was one of several top EPA staffers to receive a five-figure raise during his first months at the agency. According to the documents, Chmielewski’s pay went from $115,755 to $140,000 between April 23 and July 16, 2017.

Chmielewski also failed to complete the necessary financial disclosure form during his time at the EPA, ProPublica reported earlier this month. That filing failure, however, has never been cited publicly as a reason for his ouster.

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