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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt shuns email for external communications

CNN logo CNN 6/22/2018 By Gregory Wallace and Curt Devine, CNN
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt attends a 2018 Hurricane Briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters in Washington, DC, on June 6, 2018. - US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump also attended the meeting. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images) © JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt attends a 2018 Hurricane Briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters in Washington, DC, on June 6, 2018. - US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump also attended the meeting. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Since taking office in February 2017, Administrator Scott Pruitt has sent only a small number of external emails from his official Environmental Protection Agency accounts, reviews of documents released by the EPA found.

While the EPA says Pruitt mostly conducts agency business in person, the Sierra Club, which obtained the records, said it is concerned he may be using an undisclosed work account, a personal email address or other methods that do not preserve public records as required under federal law.

Pruitt's use of email is currently the subject of a probe by the EPA inspector general.

As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt used a personal email account, according to local media, which noted the practice is allowed with certain requirements under Oklahoma law.

Reviews by the Sierra Club, which obtained Pruitt's external emails through a public records request, and CNN turned up two emails sent by Pruitt to people outside the EPA, as well as a small number of text messages.

In one, Pruitt corresponded with a Washington political consultant -- who also hails from Pruitt's home state of Oklahoma -- about speaking at a dinner event.

"Hope to see you soon!" Pruitt wrote.

In another, Pruitt thanked the manager of an apartment building he lived in after she sent his wife and him instructions for their electronic door lock.

"Thank you Nancy for your kind assistance in this matter, but also generally," Pruitt wrote.

Politico reported the dinner invitation email Friday.

Pruitt has four EPA email accounts, the agency has said, including two used by his aides for email and scheduling, and one now-defunct account that he does not use. The agency has said it searches all four accounts in response to public records requests.

Asked about the limited number of external emails, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said, "Administrator Pruitt works mostly in person through conversations."

Wilcox did not address whether Pruitt has used a personal email account for government business.

Kevin Chmielewski, Pruitt's former deputy chief of staff for operations, who said he was fired after questioning Pruitt's management and spending, said the administrator would typically send messages through his personal iPad.

"He would use his personal iPad for everything. It was with him 24/7," Chmielewski said, adding that he had seen Pruitt send messages using the iPad, but he did not know which email address Pruitt was using or who he was messaging.

"He was definitely sending more emails, but I don't know who he was messaging," he said.

Chmielewski said Pruitt would typically communicate with EPA officials face-to-face or over the phone, and if he wanted to send an email to staffers he would typically relay that message to his aides to send.

The records include several text messages -- but it is not clear whether Pruitt was the sender or recipient -- as well as a form reply sent from his public email account, pruitt.scott@epa.gov.

Records also show Pruitt used a personal email address to respond to a message from Wes Lane, a former Oklahoma County district attorney, sent last June. Lane invited Pruitt to speak to a group that was visiting Washington for the grand opening of the Museum of the Bible, and Pruitt said he would forward the request to his scheduling team. "Godspeed my friend!" Pruitt said.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said that "it is beyond suspicious that he claims his external communications over the course of 10 months are limited to a single solitary email."

In May, EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins said his office would probe Pruitt's email use after Senate Democrats questioned the lack of public Pruitt email records.

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