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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt sought to secure a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife shortly after taking office, enlisting an agency staffer to approach a top executive at the fast food chain with the request, emails obtained by The Washington Post show.
The incident raises yet another question about potential abuse of power by Pruitt, who faces about a dozen investigations into his spending, management and other issues. In recent days, Democratic lawmakers have demanded investigators look into several cases in which Pruitt had subordinates perform personal tasks for him.
The Chick-fil-A inquiry is detailed in an exchange going back to May 2017, obtained by the Sierra Club through a Freedom of Information Act request. In an email published by the Post, Pruitt's executive scheduler, Sydney Hupp, tells a Chick-fil-A employee that Pruitt would like to speak to the company's chairman and president, Dan Cathy, about "a potential business opportunity."
A meeting between Pruitt and Cathy never took place, the Post reports, but the EPA chief eventually spoke with a representative from Chick-fil-A. That conversation was about his wife Marlyn becoming a franchisee, Carrie Kurlander, vice president of public relations at Chick-fil-A, told the newspaper.
Marlyn Pruitt started the franchise application, but did not complete it, said Kurlander. Chick-fil-A selects approximately 100 individuals each year from a pool of about 40,000 people interested in running a franchise, she told the Post.
The Post reports Pruitt also contacted Matthew Swift, CEO of New York nonprofit Concordia, about helping his wife find work in event planning. Concordia ultimately hired Marlyn Pruitt for three days of work, paying her $2,000 and covering her travel expenses to help organize a 2017 conference, where her husband gave a speech, Swift told the Post.
An EPA spokesperson declined to comment to the Post, and Swift defended the arrangement, saying Pruitt's speaking engagement was not linked to his wife's work arrangement.
The Chick-fil-A inquiry may run afoul federal ethics laws that prohibit officials from leveraging their position to enrich themselves, as well as rules against compelling employees to conduct personal tasks for a superior, according to the Post.
Pruitt has come under fire for assigning personal tasks to another aide, Millan Hupp, who is Sydney Hupp's sister. A transcript of an interview with Millan Hupp showed that, among other things, Pruitt tasked her with asking the Trump International Hotel in Washington how much it would cost to purchase a used mattress, the Post reported on Monday.
That incident was detailed in a letter from Democratic Congress members Elijah E. Cummings and Gerald E. Connolly to Republican Trey Gowdy, the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who is investigating several of Pruitt's controversies.
Senate Democrats last week asked the EPA inspector general to look into a housing hunt Millan Hupp conducted for Pruitt, who says the aide did the work on her own time. The lawmakers say the work potentially violates federal rules barring government officials from soliciting gifts or services from employees.