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The Latest: Pruitt denies aide shopped bad press about Zinke

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WASHINGTON (AP) - The Latest on Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt (all times local):

11:56 a.m.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt is denying that a member of his press staff sought to plant negative media reports about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the hopes of deflecting attention from Pruitt's problems.

Multiple media outlets reported that Pruitt press aide Michael Abboud shopped allegations about Zinke to Washington reporters. Asked about the issue by Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, Pruitt replied that it didn't happen.

"We've investigated that with the gentleman in question," Pruitt said.

Udall also asked Pruitt about a tweet issued by EPA's official account last month mocking Democratic senators for failing to block the confirmation of Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist now working as EPA's No. 2 official. The tweet potentially violated federal anti-propaganda rules.

Pruitt says his staff shouldn't have issued the tweet.

10:40 a.m.

President Donald Trump's embattled Environmental Protection Agency head is distancing himself from controversies at his agency by blaming subordinates for ethical missteps.

Scott Pruitt is testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, and he's being pressed by the top Democrat about his unusual security demands.

New Mexico's Tom Udall is asking Pruitt whether he directed his security detail to use lights and sirens to speed through Washington traffic, even when there wasn't an emergency.

Pruitt isn't answering directly. He says there are policies in place and he's confident his staff has followed them.

The senator has asked again whether Pruitt gave such an order. Pruitt says, "I don't recall that happening."

Udall is citing an email written by EPA's security chief saying Pruitt "encourages the use" of emergency lights.

10:15 a.m.

A top Republican senator worries that the ethical cloud hanging over President Donald Trump's top environmental official is overshadowing the administration's pro-business regulatory moves.

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is appearing before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, and lawmakers are raising questions about his spending habits, security precautions and large raises to some aides.

Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, who heads the subcommittee, is expressing concern about the continued focus on the ethics allegations

And the subcommittee's top Democrat, New Mexico's Tom Udall, is accusing Pruitt of failing to inform lawmakers about a $43,000 soundproof booth for making private phone calls from his office.

Udall tells Pruitt he's treating his position of public trust "as a golden ticket for extravagant travel and fine dining."

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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