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May 3, 2018

As Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has been sinking deeper and deeper into hot water, one of his press aides apparently tried to throw him a lifeline — at the expense of a fellow Trump administration official.

Pruitt is the subject of no fewer than 10 ethical investigations, as reports about his extravagant spending, taxpayer-funded flights, and dicey living situation have come to light. In an attempt at "taking the heat off of Pruitt," one of the EPA chief's press aides tried diverting the media's attention to the purported misdeeds of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, The Atlantic reported Thursday.

The Pruitt aide, Michael Abboud, "has been shopping negative stories about Zinke to multiple outlets," The Atlantic reported, citing two sources "with direct knowledge" of Abboud's actions, "as well as correspondence reviewed by The Atlantic." Among the stories Abboud tried to push: that an official from the Interior Department was working in tandem with former EPA official Kevin Chmielewski to leak unflattering stories about the EPA "as part of a rivalry between Zinke and Pruitt." The efforts, Abboud claimed, per The Atlantic, would allow "the Interior staffer to prop up Zinke at the expense of Pruitt, and Chmielewski to 'get back' at his former boss."

Reporters were apparently skeptical of Abboud's story, and when they called Interior Department staffers for comment, the officials were able to identify Abboud as the source of the tales. The Interior Department then called the White House Presidential Personnel Office to "complain" about Abboud, prompting the White House to angrily call the EPA, The Atlantic reported.

Neither a spokesman for the White House nor a spokeswoman for the Interior Department would comment to The Atlantic on the story. EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the report was "categorically false" and that Abboud's purported story-shopping "did not happen." Read more at The Atlantic. Kimberly Alters

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