Scott Pruitt is paying rent to the wife of an attorney representing the NRA in Russia probe
EPA AdministratorScott Pruitt of Oklahoma speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Scott Pruitt may have to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe if he slides over to attorney general, as President Donald Trump reportedly would like him to do.


The Environmental Protection Agency administrator has been renting a room in a Washington, D.C., townhouse partially owned by an oil lobbyist's wife, and that connection could complicate Trump's rumored plan to replace Jeff Sessions.

According to Bloomberg Politics, Pruitt has been paying $50 a night for one bedroom in the townhouse owned through a limited liability corporation by Vicki Hart, a lobbyist who specializes in health care.

Hart is married to J. Steven Hart, chairman of the Williams & Jensen lobbying firm that represents energy industry clients such as Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. and Cheniere Energy Inc.

Steven Hart also serves as outside legal counsel for the NRA, and he issued a media statement related to the Russia investigation this week on behalf of the gun manufacturers lobbying group.

“We have one contribution from a Russian,” Steven Hart told ABC News on Wednesday.

Hart said Russian politician Alexander Torshin had made a "life membership payment" to the National Rifle Association's nonprofit parent organization, which is not required by law to disclose the contribution.

“The donation was the person’s membership dues,” Hart said, adding that the money was not used for election-related activities in the U.S. “That was not a major donor program."

The FBI is reportedly investigating whether Torshin, deputy governor of the Bank of Russia, illegally funneled money to the NRA to assist the Trump campaign in 2016.

Torshin has boasted numerous times on his frequently updated Twitter account that he methodically cultivated ties with NRA leaders over six years to gain deeper access to U.S. politics, according to a report earlier this month by NPR.

The former deputy speaker of Russia's parliament has tweeted that he knows Trump personally through his NRA connections, and he reportedly met with Donald Trump Jr. at a May 2016 NRA convention in Louisville, Kentucky.

Torshin also tried repeatedly to meet with the Republican candidate himself at that convention, but there's no evidence such a meeting occurred.

Pruitt's connection to Steven Hart has raised the interest of ethics watchdogs, and it could also complicate the president's reported plan to move him from the EPA to oversee the Department of Justice -- and the special counsel probe of Russian election interference.

Two Republicans in regular contact with the White House told Vanity Fair that Trump has discussed replacing Sessions, who has recused himself from overseeing the Justice Department probe due to his own ties to Russia, with Pruitt.

The new attorney general would presumably be able to fire special counsel Robert Mueller or otherwise wind down the probe, which has reached into Trump's inner circle.

Pruitt, as an agency chief and former Oklahoma attorney general, might be able to bypass Senate confirmation to take over for Sessions, who has fallen out of favor with Trump since stepping away from overseeing the Russia probe.