A former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official likely behind negative media stories about Administrator Scott Pruitt doesn’t have all his facts straight, according sources familiar with EPA’s inner-workings.
Former Trump campaign official Kevin Chmielewski, who’s also former EPA deputy chief of staff operations, gave congressional Democrats a list of accusations against Pruitt, detailing the administrator’s alleged “wasteful spending” and “disregard for ethical and legal requirements.”
Chmielewski is the likely source for media reports surrounding Pruitt’s spending habits and alleged ethical lapses. Chmielewski was removed from his position at EPA for challenging Pruitt, but that hasn’t been confirmed, reports said.
But many of Chmielewski’s claims have been called into question by two sources familiar with Pruitt’s security detail. One source told The Daily Caller News Foundation of Chmielewski’s that “more than 60 percent is false, the other 40 percent is information he distorted.”
In one instance Chmielewski alleged “a $30,000 contract with private Italian security personnel entered into by Mr. [Pasquele] Nino Perrotta,” ahead of Pruitt’s attendance of a G7 summit in Italy.
However, two sources familiar with Pruitt’s security said that never happened, adding Perrotta, the special agent in charge of Pruitt’s security detail, would have had no authority to enter into such a contract on his own.
The “special agent in charge has no authority to make purchase agreements or authorize people to make purchases,” one source told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Perrotta would need approval from higher-ups in the Office of Criminal Enforcement and Forensic Training, the source said.
Perrotta did communicate with contacts in Italy but only to get an idea of what sort of security would be typical for a U.S. official of Pruitt’s stature, not to negotiate a five-figure security contract, a second source said.
Before joining EPA in 2004, Perrotta joined the Secret Service in 1995. Before that, Perrotta served as an Army intelligence officer for three years and did tours in Italy, Bulgaria and Romania.
Perrotta’s become the focus of intense media scrutiny, including a New York Times article that referred to the special agent as Pruitt’s “sheriff.” NYT’s April 12 article, published the same day as Democrats’ letter, repeated many of Chmielewski’s accusations.
“Perrotta, has clashed — at least once physically — with top EPA officials who challenged Mr. Pruitt’s spending, and has steered at least one EPA security contract to a business associate,” current and former officials told NYT.
Likewise, “at least one security-related contract was awarded to an individual who works at Mr. Perrotta’s private security firm, and he believes that other contracts may also have been awarded to friends or associates of Mr. Perrotta’s,” Chmielewski told Democrats.
It’s true EPA hired Edwin Steinmetz to conduct a security sweep of Pruitt’s office in 2017, costing the agency $3,000. Steinmetz is listed on the management team of Perrotta’s security firm he operates on the side — Sequoia Security Group.
“It was an emergency; they needed it right away,” Steinmetz told NYT. “I dropped everything and took care of it.” None of the money Steinmetz was paid went to Sequoia Security Group, and there’s no evidence Perrotta played a role in any other security contracts.
Both DCNF sources confirmed Steinmetz’s security sweep but contested NYT’s characterization Perrotta “steered” the contract toward them. EPA hadn’t conducted a security sweep in years and asked Perrotta for a recommendation, the sources said.
Steinmetz and EPA contracting officials took the ball from there, Perrotta suggested. Steinmetz got the $3,000 job through an official agency process, both sources said.
“Very few people are qualified in that specific field and EPA had a hard time finding a vendor,” one source said.
Perrotta got permission from EPA to operate a side business in 2013, during the Obama administration. As for “physically” clashing with an EPA official, as NYT alleged, that never happened, one source told TheDCNF.
“Things got so heated that a scuffle broke out during a meeting last summer of the agency’s top security and administrative staff” where “Perrotta traded expletives with Mario Caraballo, who until recently served as the deputy associate administrator of the homeland security office, and that the two men had to be physically separated,” NYT reported.
The discussion between Caraballo and Perrotta got heated, but no physical altercation broke out, a source, who spoke with officials present at the meeting, said. Caraballo has since been removed from his position at EPA.