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Scott Pruitt says he's 'dumbfounded' renting a below-market room from an energy lobbyist is 'controversial'

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is frustrated that people are focusing on ethical questions surrounding his taxpayer-funded first-class air travel and 24/7 security, sneaky raises for two favorite aides, and sweetheart rental deal with the wife of a top energy and transportation lobbyist, rather than on his successes in rolling back environmental protections.

"It's toxic here in that regard," Pruitt told The Washington Examiner's Paul Bedard on Tuesday. He dismissed the flap about his paying $50 a night — only on nights he stayed at the unit — for a two-bedroom Capitol Hill condo partially owned by Vicki Hart, the lobbyist wife of top Washington lobbyist J. Steven Hart, whose firm had business with the EPA last year, according to disclosure forms. "I'm dumbfounded that that's controversial," Pruitt told Bedard. He said Hart "has no clients that are before this agency" and insisted that "if you look at the lease it's very clear it's market value." Steven Hart "talked proudly about the rental agreement with Pruitt," The Washington Post reports, though Hart, too, said he "had no lobbying contact with EPA in 2017 or 2018."

Over the six months he leased the condo, Pruitt paid a total of $6,100, or just over $1,000 a month, The Associated Press says, noting that a two-bedroom condo on the same block is currently renting for the more typical $3,750 a month. "Under the lease, Pruitt technically rented only one of the condo's two bedrooms, but his daughter stayed in the second room from May to August," AP adds, and "records show that while Pruitt was living in the condo, he met in his EPA office with a lobbyist from Hart's firm" about scrapping coal-fired power plant rules.

Pruitt left the condo last summer, and one of the two aides whose salary he jacked up, Millan Hupp, "spearheaded Pruitt's subsequent moves," The Washington Post reports. "Part of Hupp's search took place during office hours," a likely violation of federal rules.