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Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Albert "Kell" Kelly, a top aide to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on toxic waste cleanups, has decided to resign from the agency, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Pruitt has called Superfund a top priority. But Kelly, a past business associate of Pruitt's, has attracted controversy in the role.

Two sources with knowledge of Kelly's decision say the continual bad press about his history in banking — per the NYT, he was barred from working in the finance industry because of a banking violation — made Kelly decide "enough is enough." 

Quoted: Pruitt, in a statement, praised Kelly's work.

  • “Kell Kelly’s service at EPA will be sorely missed. In just over a year he has made a tremendous impact on EPA’s Superfund program, serving as chair of the Superfund Task Force and presiding over the development of the steps necessary to implement the recommendations in the report," he said, referring to a set of recommendations on bolstering cleanups issued last year.
  • "Kell has made a point to visit dozens of Superfund sites across the country and has met directly with impacted citizens, community groups and responsible parties," Pruitt said.

Big picture: The resignation comes as Pruitt is embroiled in a series of controversies around his travel and security spending, raises for top aides and more.

While many senior officials at the White House want Pruitt gone — one told Axios his firing is inevitable and part of the need to "rip off the band-aid" — President Trump continues to stick by him.

One level deeper: Kelly is a former banking executive in Oklahoma but was banned last year from the industry by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. He "did not admit or deny the agency's allegations," the Oklahoman reported last year.

However, in response to a question about his history in the industry, an EPA spokesman emailed this quote in his defense . . .

  • “Kell Kelly is a man of high integrity. During my time as CEO of the American Bankers Association, Mr. Kelly served as my chairman and helped lead the association through a difficult period following 2008 financial crisis; Administrator Pruitt is fortunate to have him,” said Frank Keating, former Oklahoma governor and former CEO of the American Bankers Association.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - World

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai detained on fraud charge

An activist holds a placard highlighting China's Tiananmen Square massacre as pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrives at West Kowloon Magistrates' Court in Hong Kong in November. Photo: Isaac Wong/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai is being detained until an April court hearing after the pro-democracy supporter was charged Thursday with fraud, per his Apple Daily news outlet.

Why it matters: The 72-year-old's arrest and denial of bail is another blow for the pro-democracy movement in the former British colony amid concerns about a fresh crackdown on activists.

5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Inhofe loudly sets Trump straight on defense bill

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Senator Jim Inhofe told President Trump today he'll likely fail to get two big wishes in pending defense spending legislation, bellowing into his cellphone: "This is the only chance to get our bill passed," a source who overheard part of their conversation tells Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans are ready to test whether Trump's threats of vetoing the bill, which has passed every year for more than half a century, are empty.

Conspiracy theories blow back on Trump's White House

Sidney Powell. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

President Trump has rarely met a conspiracy theory he doesn't like, but he and other Republicans now worry the wild tales told by lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood may cost them in Georgia's Senate special elections.

Why it matters: The two are telling Georgians not to vote for Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler because of a bizarre, baseless and potentially self-defeating theory: It's not worth voting because the Chinese Communist Party has rigged the voting machines.