Two top U.S. EPA staffers resign amid ongoing ethics probes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two high-level Environmental Protection Agency employees whose names have come up in ongoing probes into Administrator Scott Pruitt’s ethics and travel have resigned from the agency, the EPA confirmed on Tuesday.

Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, a former Secret Service agent who served as the head of Pruitt’s security team, resigned on Monday, but said he will continue to cooperate in a U.S. House of Representatives investigation into his role in costly decisions around Pruitt’s security. ABC News first reported the resignation on Tuesday.

Albert “Kell” Kelly, who ran the agency’s Superfund cleanup program, also announced his resignation, the EPA confirmed. Kelly was barred by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation from working at any U.S. financial institution after unspecified violations while working at a bank in Oklahoma.

The resignations come just days after lawmakers grilled Pruitt in back-to-back hearings on reports of ethics violations, excessive spending on travel and security, close industry ties and the reassignment of agency whistleblowers who flagged concerns about high spending.

Those issues included the installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office and the routine use of first-class flights – both of which EPA has argued were important to protecting Pruitt’s safety and privacy.

Pruitt praised both men for their work at EPA.

“Kell Kelly’s service at EPA will be sorely missed,” Pruitt said in a statement. “In just over a year he has made a tremendous impact on EPA’s Superfund program.”

Pruitt said of Perrotta that he “selflessly served the American people for more than 23 years” as a Secret Service agent and under four EPA administrators. “I want to thank him for his service and wish him the very best in retirement.”

House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy said on Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that his committee had scheduled interviews with Perrotta and other senior Pruitt aides this week.

He said the panel also received documents it requested from the EPA related to Pruitt and his staff’s use of first-class flights and a condo rental agreement between Pruitt and the wife of an industry lobbyist.

President Donald Trump has not indicated whether the slew of scandals would affect Pruitt’s tenure.

Several Republicans in the House who have embraced Pruitt’s deregulatory agenda said Pruitt was unfairly grilled by Democrats regarding the scandals, but others said his answers to some key questions were vague.

Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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