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WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Friday formally requested that the Justice Department investigate Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt for potential criminal conduct.
In a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray and Justice criminal division chief John Cronan, six Democratic lawmakers with oversight of Pruitt's agency allege he repeatedly violated federal anti-corruption laws by seeking to leverage his government position for personal gain.
As evidence, the Democrats cite Pruitt's $50-a-night lease of a Capitol Hill condo tied to a lobbyist seeking to influence his agency, directing an EPA aide to contact a senior Chick-fil-A executive as part of an effort to land his family a franchise, and a $2,000 payment to his wife from organizers of a conference the administrator then attended at taxpayer expense.
A spokesman for Pruitt did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
The letter was signed by Democratic Reps. Gerald Connolly and Donald Beyer of Virginia, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Ruben Gallego of Arizona, Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Ted Lieu of California. Connolly is a senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and serves as the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Government Operations.
President Donald Trump signaled Friday he is still standing by his embattled EPA chief, even as Pruitt's support among other Republicans has started to erode.
"Scott Pruitt is doing a great job within the walls of the EPA," Trump told reporters at the White House. "I mean, we're setting records. Outside he's being attacked very viciously by the press. And I'm not saying that he's blameless. But we'll see what happens."
For his part, Pruitt sought to laugh off the controversy this week over his using government resources to seek a "business opportunity" with the fast-food fried chicken chain whose owners are known for supporting conservative Christian causes, including outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage.
"I mean, look, my wife is an entrepreneur herself. I love, she loves, we love Chick-fil-A as a franchise of faith," Pruitt said in a TV interview on Wednesday.
In their letter, the House Democrats make their case that Pruitt's conduct rises to the level of criminal conduct.
"At the very least, we know that federal ethics laws bar public officials from using their position or staff for private gain," the Democrats wrote to Wray and Cronan. "Administrator Pruitt has certainly done just that. Further, his actions related to his wife's employment and the quid-pro-quo condo situation with industry lobbyists may have crossed a line into criminal conduct punishable by fines or even by time in prison."