Bryson Morgan Comments on EPA Chiefs' Rental Arrangement Constituting An Improper Gift
For much of his first year in Washington, President Trump’s EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt occupied prime real estate in a townhouse near the U.S. Capitol that is co-owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist, property records from 2017 show.
Neither the EPA nor the lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, would say how much Pruitt paid to live at the prime Capitol Hill address, though Hart said he believed it to be the market rate. The price tag on Pruitt’s rental arrangement is one key question when determining if it constitutes an improper gift, ethics experts told ABC News.
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“I think it certainly creates a perception problem, especially if Mr. Hart is seeking to influence the agency,” said Bryson Morgan, the former investigative counsel at the U.S. House of Representatives Office of Congressional Ethics. “That’s why there is a gift rule.”
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Morgan, an ethics expert in private practice in Washington, D.C., said the lobbying connection only further muddies the living arrangement. He said the rental agreement could create ethics problems for Pruitt even if he did reimburse his landlord for rent.
“What are the terms of the rental agreement?” Morgan asked. “It’s not just a question if he is paying market rent. Was he given the ability to end it immediately? Would someone come after him if he were not to pay rent?”
Morgan said the most recent guidance from the Office of Government Ethics “emphasized that executive branch officials should decline even a permissible gift if it could cause the public to question their integrity or impartiality.”
Mr. Morgan is an attorney in Caplin & Drysdale’s Political Law Group in Washington, D.C.
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Excerpt taken from the article “More Cabinet trouble for Trump? EPA Chief Lived in Condo Tied to Lobbyist 'Power Couple'” by John Santucci, Matthew Mosk, and Stephanie Ebbs for ABC News.