WASHINGTON — Two top aides to Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency chief who is facing an array of investigations related to his spending and management practices, have resigned amid widening scrutiny of their roles at the agency.
The departures include Pasquale Perrotta, who served as Mr. Pruitt’s chief of security and helped facilitate the costly and unusual team of bodyguards and other protective measures provided to Mr. Pruitt — measures that critics have called unnecessary.
Also departing was Albert Kelly, a longtime friend of Mr. Pruitt’s and a former banker who received a lifetime ban from the finance industry last year following a banking violation. Mr. Kelly ran the agency’s Superfund program, which oversees the cleanup of hazardous waste sites.
The resignations of Mr. Kelly and Mr. Perrotta follow a string of reports of Mr. Pruitt’s lavish spending and alleged conflicts of interest, including his office’s illegal purchase of a secure telephone booth, his condominium-rental agreement with the wife of an energy lobbyist, and accusations that he demoted or sidelined E.P.A. employees who questioned his actions.
Mr. Pruitt, who is the subject of 11 federal investigations, is now seeking to establish a legal defense fund, according to four people familiar with his plans, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not directly involved with setting up the fund. These people said they expect Mr. Pruitt to operate the fund privately, with no E.P.A. affiliation.
When asked about the fund, Jahan Wilcox, an E.P.A. spokesman, said, “E.P.A. does not set up a legal expense fund for any employee.”
The people familiar with Mr. Pruitt’s legal defense fund said they did not know what legal or financial form the fund would take.
The practice among administration officials of setting up some form of outside fund or account to help defray the cost of legal expenses dates back to at least the Nixon administration, said Robert Rizzi, a tax attorney who specializes in government ethics with the firm Steptoe. Mr. Rizzi noted that Mr. Pruitt would hardly be the first member of the Trump administration to set up such a fund. “This has come up more often in this administration than in previous administrations,” he said.
Mr. Rizzi also said the creation of such a fund could cause further headaches for Mr. Pruitt should energy companies or other industries regulated by the E.P.A. contribute to it. “These funds raise a lot of uncertainties in the tax area and the ethical area,” he said.
Also on Tuesday, new details emerged about the lobbying of the E.P.A. by J. Steven Hart, the lobbyist whose wife had last year rented a $50-a-night condo to Mr. Pruitt. Congressional investigators on Tuesday provided The New York Times with an email in which Mr. Hart asked Mr. Pruitt for help in getting three people appointed to the E.P.A.’s prestigious Science Advisory Board. They had been recommended by Smithfield Foods, a company that was a client of Mr. Hart’s lobbying firm, and its Smithfield Foundation, a charitable subsidiary.
The email was sent in August 2017, a few weeks after Mr. Pruitt had moved out of the apartment, but at a time when he still owed money to Mr. Hart’s wife.
Representative Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the leading Democrat on the House committee that helps oversee E.P.A. operations, called the email “further proof that Administrator Pruitt has consistently misled Congress and the public about the extent to which the special interests providing him with gifts have sought specific favors from E.P.A. in return.”
The E.P.A. press office did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Williams & Jensen, the lobbying firm that Mr. Hart left last month, did not respond to a request for comment.
The departures of Mr. Perrotta and Mr. Kelly from the E.P.A. come as some of Mr. Pruitt’s top staffers privately have begun expressing frustration with his stewardship of the agency. When asked at a congressional hearing last week about the spending and the ethical questions hovering over his tenure, Mr. Pruitt denied knowledge of the decisions, blaming them instead on his senior staff.
As the investigations into Mr. Pruitt have grown, so has scrutiny of Mr. Perrotta and Mr. Kelly. Neither responded to emails or phone messages seeking comment on Tuesday afternoon.
Mr. Pruitt on Tuesday praised his two former aides, while Democrats seized on their resignations to renew calls for Mr. Pruitt to step aside.
“Scott Pruitt should be the next to go,” Representative Donald S. Beyer Jr., Democrat of Virginia, said. “Albert Kelly was never qualified to run Superfund — his banking ban was a huge red flag,” he added.
Mr. Perrotta, known as Nino, is a former Secret Service agent with a background investigating the Gambino crime family. Officially, he led Mr. Pruitt’s protective detail, but he played a larger role at the E.P.A. by arguing that the security needs of the agency justified some of its spending, personnel and management decisions.
Mr. Perrotta’s influence placed him at the center of inquiries by the E.P.A. inspector general’s office into excessive spending and possible violations of contracting rules by Mr. Pruitt’s administration, according to senior officials at the E.P.A., who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
It was Mr. Perrotta, those people said, who pushed for the construction of the $43,000 surveillance-proof telephone booth in Mr. Pruitt’s office in Washington, over the objections of colleagues who had advocated a less expensive option.
Mr. Perrotta emboldened Mr. Pruitt by signing off on security enhancements or travel-related expenditures to which other agency officials had objected, said Kevin Chmielewski, a political appointee who served as Mr. Pruitt’s deputy chief of staff until being removed from his post this year after raising objections to some of the spending at the agency.
Mr. Perrotta “has been with the agency for a very long time, so he knew how to get things done for Pruitt,” Mr. Chmielewski said.
Of Mr. Perrotta, Mr. Pruitt said: “Nino Perrotta has selflessly served the American people for more than 23 years, beginning his career as a special agent with the United States Secret Service and then serving four E.P.A. administrators. His hard work and dedication will be missed by all those who worked with him.”
The House Oversight Committee is scheduled to hear from Mr. Perrotta on Wednesday as part of its investigation into Mr. Pruitt’s alleged ethical lapses, in what is known as a transcribed interview. While staffers of the committee have spoken with at least one former E.P.A. staffer as part of their investigation into Mr. Pruitt, a transcribed interview, often conducted under oath, is a stronger step, creating a document that could be used as legal evidence.
The panel also plans to summon five other current and former senior agency officials for similar interviews in the coming weeks, including Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, and a former top policy adviser, Samantha Dravis.
Mr. Kelly, widely known as Kell, has longstanding ties to Mr. Pruitt in his home state of Oklahoma. The former chief executive of the Oklahoma lender SpiritBank, Mr. Kelly faced criticism in part for lacking a background in hazardous waste cleanup.
The reason for the ban has not been publicly disclosed. An order from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said only that there was “reason to believe” he was illegally involved in “an agreement pertaining to a loan.”
Mr. Pruitt said Mr. Kelly “will be sorely missed,” adding, “In just over a year he has made a tremendous impact on E.P.A.’s Superfund program, serving as chair of the Superfund Task Force and presiding over the development of the steps necessary to implement the recommendations in the report.”
Mr. Pruitt had also been questioned about his financial ties to Mr. Kelly’s bank during his Oklahoma years. SpiritBank provided the mortgage for a home that Mr. Pruitt acquired with other investors, using a shell company, in Oklahoma City in 2003, as detailed in a recent New York Times article.
SpiritBank also provided financing for a stake in a minor-league baseball team that Mr. Pruitt acquired, along with other investors, in 2003, as well as Mr. Pruitt’s home purchase in suburban Tulsa the following year.
The E.P.A., in a statement to The Times, said that Mr. Pruitt’s business dealings with Mr. Kelly were “ethical” and that Mr. Pruitt’s stake in the shell company was “a simple real estate investment.”
At the E.P.A., Mr. Kelly pushed for more intensive cleanups of contaminated Superfund sites to pave the way for investment on the reclaimed land by private developers.
Last month, Mr. Kelly acknowledged the scrutiny he has faced in an interview with The Montana Standard. “I get this tagline, ‘banker banned for life,’” he said.
“My problem with the F.D.I.C. emanated from one singular transaction in 2010. They didn’t like it. The bank didn’t lose any money. The bank made money. There was nothing untoward about it,” Mr. Kelly told The Standard, adding that he “ran out of money” to oppose the F.D.I.C. “There are two sides to the story, and mine rarely gets out there,” he said.
Last week, a member of Congress pressed Mr. Pruitt about whether Mr. Kelly should disclose details of his “lifetime banking ban as a matter of transparency.” Mr. Pruitt responded, “I think Mr. Kelly, if he’s willing to share that with you, he should do that.”
Eric Lipton, Lisa Friedman and Kenneth P. Vogel in Washington and Steve Eder and Hiroko Tabuchi in New York contributed reporting.
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