Republican congressman joins calls for Scott Pruitt to resign or be fired

A White House official, asked for comment, said only that the two calls had taken place and would not elaborate.

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

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 27, 2017.

Two administration officials said the president called the former Oklahoma attorney general on Monday and told him: "We've got your back".

Trump, in an appearance with Baltic leaders at the White House, answered a question about Pruitt by saying, "I hope he's going to be great". Trump also urged Pruitt to "keep his head up" and said the White House supported him. (It seems he's clung on this long in part because he's done such a good job gutting Obama-era regulations.) And if the Times headline wasn't enough to spur Kelly to action, The Washington Post reported on Monday that Pruitt's staff explored the idea of leasing a private jet to accommodate his "travel needs" (the idea was scrapped after estimates came in at roughly $100,000 a month), while The Atlantic revealed that Pruitt himself bypassed the White House to give two of his closest aides huge raises a year ago. Pruitt leased a room for around $50 a night, only paying when he stayed there.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the White House probe into Pruitt's connections to the lobbyist and the housing situation.

A Republican who previously served as the state attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt has always been a champion of the oil and gas industry.

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EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox defended Pruitt's record, from pushing to leave the Paris climate pact to working to repeal the Clean Power Plan, an Obama era program to cut greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-burning electricity plants. Similar scenarios played out before Trump dismissed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin: aides are scrambling to sort out what is real and what isn't; they are demanding answers from Pruitt and the EPA; and they're bracing for Trump's inevitable fury at the negative headlines.

In the letter Whitehouse cites guidance from the Office of Government Ethics that says government employees should consider declining a gift that may not technically violate gift rules if "their integrity or impartiality would be questioned if they were to accept the gift".

That, officials said, could make the difference for Pruitt, who is liked by the President.

Curbelo has frequently clashed with Pruitt, other Trump administration officials and the president himself. That tendency, and Trump's tepid words Tuesday, suggested that Pruitt's future at EPA is not assured despite the president's apparently high regard for him over the past year.

A provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act allows the EPA administrator to hire up to 30 people into the agency, without White House or congressional approval.

As Politico noted, however, Trump has been known to quickly turn on officials he praises, "as was the case with former national security adviser H.R. McMaster".

The apartment was popular for holding political events because the location close to Capitol Hill was convenient, and the townhouse was cheaper to rent than a similarly located restaurant, an administration source told CBS News.

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