Mr. Pruitt acknowledged that Ms. Hupp had conducted the search on his behalf and had not been paid but noted that she was a longtime family friend.
“It doesn’t cut it that they’re a friend,” Senator Udall said. “Did you pay them at the time?”
“No, I did not,” Mr. Pruitt responded.
“Then it’s a gift,” Senator Udall said. “It’s a violation of federal law.”
Officials are prohibited by law from accepting gifts from their subordinates that exceed $10.
Mr. Pruitt promised to provide copies of all emails and documents from himself and Ms. Hupp related to the housing search.
Republicans, as they have in previous hearings with Mr. Pruitt, generally gave the administrator an easy ride. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the chairwoman of the subcommittee, initially rebuked the E.P.A. chief.
“I’m being asked, really constantly asked, to comment on housing and security and travel,” she said. “Instead of seeing articles about efforts to return your agency to its core mission, I’m reading articles about your interactions with the industries that you regulate.”
But Senator Murkowski did not press Mr. Pruitt about the allegations. Instead, she asked him, “Do you have anything you would like to add in response?” The move mirrored those of Republicans in earlier hearings with Mr. Pruitt: citing concern about allegations of misconduct but then allowing the administrator to issue an open-ended and unchallenged defense.
In response Mr. Pruitt denied, as he has before, that he was to blame.
“I would not make the same decisions again,” he said, without detailing which ones. But, he said, in some cases the E.P.A. was not organized in a way to prevent spending abuses. He specifically cited his office’s installation of a secure phone booth, saying, “There were not proper controls early to ensure a legal review.”
The installation of the phone both, at a cost of $43,000, was later found to have violated federal law.
Mr. Pruitt said he had introduced a new process after the episode to ensure that any expenditure over $5,000 would be approved by the E.P.A. chief of staff and chief financial officer.
Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, asked Mr. Pruitt about a New York Times report that the administrator had set up a legal defense fund to to defray the costs related to the investigations into his conduct. Mr. Pruitt confirmed that the fund had been established, and Senator Van Hollen asked Mr. Pruitt to pledge that all donations to the fund would be made public, and that he would not accept donations from lobbyists or corporations that have business before the E.P.A.
“Absolutely,” Mr. Pruitt said.
Democrats also pressed Mr. Pruitt on a report by the E.P.A.’s inspector general that stated he had requested 24-hour protection from his first day in office, a costly service not extended to any of his predecessors. “Did you personally, on your first day, ask for 24-7 protection for yourself?” Senator Udall asked.
“Personally, on the first day, the 24-7 had been determined by the criminal enforcement office to provide,” Mr. Pruitt said. “I did not direct that on the first day.”
“So your answer is no,” Senator Udall said.
“My answer is I did not direct that on the first day,” Mr. Pruitt responded.
“Well all the documents dispute that,” Senator Udall said.
Senator Udall also asked Mr. Pruitt if he had ever requested the use of lights and sirens on his E.P.A.-issued vehicle when he traveled for personal reasons. Several E.P.A. aides have said that Mr. Pruitt wanted to use lights and sirens to expedite trips to airports and dinner, including at least one trip to Le Diplomate, a Washington restaurant.
Mr. Pruitt said, “I don’t recall that happening.”
Senator Udall then entered into the record an email from Mr. Pruitt’s former head of security, Pasquale Perrotta, saying that the administrator had encouraged the use of lights.