Ryan Jackson, chief of staff at the EPA, is taking responsibility for the controversy surrounding pay increases given to two aides of Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Pruitt has been the target of intense criticism after reports that he gave big raises to two longtime aides appointed to the EPA, despite the White House declining a request for the pay increases. According to a report in The Atlantic, administration officials have said that emails with one of the aides appear to show that Pruitt approved the changes.
But Jackson’s claims shift the blame for the move away from Pruitt, who has received calls to resign over the controversy.
“Administrator Pruitt had zero knowledge of the amount of the raises, nor the process by which they transpired. These kind of personnel actions are handled by EPA’s HR officials, Presidential Personnel Office and me,” Jackson said in a statement Monday, according to Politico.
Jackson explained that the aides previously worked for Pruitt in Oklahoma before moving to Washington, where salaries are higher on average. He added that the raises were simply to ensure that they were paid an amount “similar to their peers given their responsibilities over the past year.”
Democrats are calling for an investigation into the issue, as well Pruitt’s rental of an apartment from a Washington lobbyist for a hefty discount, suggesting possible conflict of interest issues within the EPA.
Pruitt appeared on Fox News last week, and claimed he had no knowledge of the pay raises, arguing that “the officials that were involved in that process should not have done what they did.”
President Donald Trump has come out in support of Pruitt, saying that he is “totally under siege” because of his work at the EPA.