Scott Pruitt

Molly Riley

2 Top Aides To Pruitt Quit EPA Amid Ethics Investigation

May 01, 2018 - 4:43 pm

WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/CBS News) -- Two top aides to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt are leaving amid ethics investigations at that agency.

Albert “Kell” Kelly has resigned as a senior adviser at the EPA running Pruitt's Superfund task force, as has Nino Perrotta, head of Pruitt's highly scrutinized, around-the-clock security detail. Perrotta had planned to retire this summer.

“(Perrotta) is the head of Pruitt’s security detail, which has sort of ballooned under this administrator to, now it’s a full-time, 24-7 detail,” Politico Energy Reporter Alex Guillen said in an interview with WCBS 880’s Steve Scott and Michael Wallace Tuesday. “That was not something administrators had received before, and they said it was justified by an increase in threats against the administrator.”

The Associated Press reported Pruitt has a 20-member full-time security detail that has cost millions since he took office.

Kelly's departure comes after Pruitt was asked repeatedly about the senior adviser during a full day of congressional hearings last week. Also last week, Democrats asked the EPA's internal watchdog to review Kelly's "ethical, regulatory and potential legal issues."

Kelly, an old business associate of Pruitt's, had been working with Pruitt on issues surrounding toxic superfund sites. Kelly recently had been barred from working in finance because of a banking violation, although the nature of the violation is unclear.

“He has a long history with Scott Pruitt,” Guillen said of Kelly. “A lot of it’s only been recently reported, but he was a lifetime banker before he arrived at the EPA last year, and his bank helped Scott Pruitt get some of his mortgages in Oklahoma, and it helped him purchase a stake in a Minor League Baseball team that he used to manage.”

Pruitt praised both Kelly and Perrotta in statements. 

"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 EPA administrators," Pruitt said. "His hard work and dedication will be missed by all those who worked with him. I want to thank him for his service and wish him the very best in retirement." 

Perrotta will be interviewed Wednesday by the House Oversight Committee.

“The scope of the House investigation is not quite clear at this point, but what they are looking at for sure is spending. The chairman of that committee, Trey Gowdy, has said he really doesn’t care for when people waste taxpayer dollars, so probably what he’s looking at is whether the security spending – which is the increase in agents protecting Pruitt to be 24/7. He flew first class a lot. There are a number of other expenses related to security,” Guillen said. “What he’s probably looking for there is whether it was truly justified by the threats that were being made against the administrator.”

Meanwhile, Pruitt had even lengthier praise for Kelly. 

"Kell Kelly's service at EPA will be sorely missed. In just over a year he has made a tremendous impact on EPA'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," Pruitt said in a statement. "Kell has made a point to visit dozens of Superfund sites across the country and has met directly with impacted citizens, community groups and responsible parties. Kell has served in a way that puts the needs of the American people and communities first, while respecting the work committed to by responsible parties."

In a statement, former Oklahoma governor and former CEO of the American Bankers Association Frank Keating called Kelly a "man of high integrity."

Guillen said others could be on the way out at the EPA, including Pruitt himself.

“For about five or six weeks now, the rumors have been pretty persistent that Scott Pruitt himself could be on the way out. I think he still has the president’s support. He did pretty well at two hearings last week defending himself against a lot of these allegations. But we’ll see,” Guillen said. “Certainly, other aides could be on their way out the door. EPA’s always been an agency that has a lot of churn, and this administration is certainly no stranger to that.”

Pruitt's rental agreement for a condo connected to a Washington lobbyist, the hefty raises two top aides of his received, his security expenses and other controversies have continued to dog Pruitt, who has lasted more than some embattled Cabinet members and nominees. Last week, the president's pick to run the Department of Veterans Affairs, Ronny Jackson, withdrew his name less than 72 hours after a slew of unsubstantiated allegations about his conduct as the president's physician emerged. Now, Jackson will no longer be the president's physician either.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News contributed to this report.)