White House probing environment chief Pruitt after condo report: WSJ

WASHINGTON, April 2 (Reuters) - The White House is reviewing Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt's activities after reports he paid below the market rate to live in a condo owned by a lobbyist who deals with issues overseen by the agency, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing an unnamed White House official.

Pruitt has declined to comment on the rental arrangement reported last week and a spokesman for the agency on Friday defended his conduct and said the lease agreement was in line with federal ethical regulations.

The Journal quoted the official as saying the purpose of the inquiry was to "dig a little deeper." Another White House official said few people were coming to Pruitt's defense, the newspaper said, although there is no sign yet that his position is in jeopardy.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt

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Former Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), speaks to employees of the Agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), greets employees of the agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt is sworn in by Justice Samuel Alito as his wife Marilyn holds a bible during ceremony at the Executive Office in Washington, U.S., February 17, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), greets employees of the agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick as head of the Environmental Protectional Agency, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), meets with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) (L) in her office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick as head of the Environmental Protectional Agency, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Oklahoma Farm Bureau Vice President of Public Policy John R.H. Collison (L) meets with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) to discuss state water issues at the attorney generals office in Oklahoma City, July 29, 2014.

(REUTERS/Nick Oxford)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt in a meeting at his office in Oklahoma City, July 29, 2014. 

(REUTERS/Nick Oxford)

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ABC News and Bloomberg News reported last week that during his first six months in Washington last year, Pruitt made a deal to pay about $50 a night - less than a third the price of similar properties - to rent a room in a Capitol Hill neighborhood condo building co-owned by energy industry lobbyist Steven Hart and his wife.

Pruitt, a conservative who previously served as Oklahoma's attorney general, is also one of several members of President Donald Trump's Cabinet who have come under scrutiny for their travel practices.

The EPA confirmed last month that Pruitt's private security detail accompanied him on first-class flights.

Hart's firm represents companies regulated by the EPA including Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co, shale producer Concho Resources Inc, ExxonMobil Corp and liquefied natural gas (LNG) company Cheniere Energy Inc.

Travel records obtained through a public records request show that Pruitt spent over $17,000 in taxpayer money for a December trip to Morocco to promote U.S. exports of LNG. Marketing U.S. LNG is not the jurisdiction of the EPA administrator. (Reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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