Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is now the subject of 12 federal investigations, after the EPA inspector general's office said it's looking into Pruitt's use of private email accounts. Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Jeff Merkeley (D-Ore.) had requested that the inspector general look into whether the EPA was preserving Pruitt's communications, as required by law, and searching his nonpublic accounts when conducting Freedom of Information Act requests. Carper and Berkeley sit on the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, and its chairman, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), has also raised concerns about Pruitt's private email use.
In a letter released Tuesday by Carper and Merkeley, EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins said that "the issues raised in your letter are within the authority of the OIG to review, and we will do so," but added that due to financial and personnel constraints, his office can't start the investigation right away. "The fact is that the OIG has been funded at less than the levels we deem adequate to do all of the work that should be done," he wrote. Plus, he did not mention, investigating Pruitt's behavior seems to be an unexpectedly resource-intensive undertaking. Peter Weber
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, facing 11 federal investigations just over a year into his tenure, "has grown paranoid and isolated, and he only trusts a small handful of people at the agency," Jonathan Swan reports at Axios, and even though President Trump "has been souring on Pruitt" as the scandals mount, he "survives because the one guy who matters in the White House won't fire him. Trump's draining supply of goodwill towards Pruitt is the EPA administrator's lifeline. Most everyone else in the building wants him gone."
Pruitt's top public affairs official, Liz Bowman, and senior press official John Konkus announced late last week that they are leaving, joining Pruitt's Superfund chief and security team leader Pasquale Perrotta out the door, in what "people with knowledge of the departures" tell The Hill is essentially "getting out of Dodge."
In the meantime, Pruitt's chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, rarely knows where Pruitt is and has been frozen out of Pruitt's inner circle, Axios says, which has shrunk to just five aides: spokesman Jahan Wilcox, Hayley Ford, Millan Hupp, Sarah Greenwalt, and Lincoln Ferguson. Only Wilcox is over 30, and Hupp, Greenwalt, and Ferguson came with Pruitt from Oklahoma; he gave huge raises to Greenwalt and Hupp, then rescinded them when they were made public. "All of us have been frozen out over time," one EPA political appointee told Swan. "It's absolutely unreal working here. Everyone's miserable. Nobody talks. It's a drywall prison."
Pruitt stopped sharing his travel schedule with anyone outside his inner circle, and he spent most of last week out of the office setting up a legal defense fund, Axios reports. But Pruitt's policy operation is apparently operating smoothly. If Pruitt is ousted, he would be replaced by Senate-confirmed deputy Andrew Wheeler, "a longtime Washington lobbyist who supports similar policies to Pruitt," Swan reports. Peter Weber
A British expat urged President Trump to fire EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and slammed other Trump administration officials on American cable TV Sunday night, and it was not John Oliver at HBO's Last Week Tonight. On Fox News, Steve Hilton — a former adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron whose L.A.-based Fox News show focuses on populism — took aim at corruption in the Trump administration, though he did not blame Trump personally.
"Remember, President Trump's historic election win was driven in part by a drain-the-swamp agenda, an agenda we strongly support here on The Next Revolution," Hilton said, arguing that "in many ways, the president has delivered," by ordering an end to the lobbying revolving door and cutting regulations, "which means less bureaucracy, and that means less opportunity for lobbying and corruption." But Trump appointees have fallen short, he said, citing a Public Citizen study he said uncovered "a shocking number of former lobbyists now working in this administration and regulating the same interests they used to lobby for."
Hilton listed some upper-management Trump appointees whose conflicts of interest "are undermining their boss' drain-the-swamp agenda," then noted that "a number of higher-level officials have abused their power in far more public ways." He pointed to ousted Cabinet officials David Shulkin and Tom Price, but also Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who "has reportedly not flown on a single commercial flight for business-related travel since taking office."
"But none of President Trump's appointees have been under more scrutiny for swampy behavior than EPA chief Scott Pruitt," Hilton said, running through some egregious examples. The White House has ordered an investigation into Pruitt's "exorbitant spending," he said, "but the last thing we need in Washington is another investigation. What we need is for President Trump to take the lead, fire Scott Pruitt, and throw out the lobbyists from his administration." Watch below — and remember, this is Fox News. Peter Weber
Scott Pruitt 'thinks he's the president of the United States,' EPA staffer says, but he was a terrible tenant
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's profligate spending of taxpayer money isn't new — he reportedly jacked up spending when he was Oklahoma attorney general, too — but EPA officials have justified most of it by citing apparently very overblown concerns about Pruitt's safety. And Pruitt's main enabler, Politico says, is the head of his 19-person 24/7 security detail, Pasquale "Nino" Perrotta.
Perrotta, a former Secret Service agent, encouraged or insisted that Pruitt (and himself) fly first class, upgrade to a specialized SUV, sweep his office for bugs — with a company linked to Perrotta — and install a $43,000 soundproof booth, Politico says, and recently retired EPA multimedia director Ron Slotkin said Perrotta posted a guard to keep employees out of Pruitt's EPA suite of offices. "Mr. Pruitt thinks he's the president of the United States," one former career staffer told Politico. "He's big on image."
He wasn't big on taking out the trash, however, The Daily Beast reports, citing numerous sources familiar with his $50-a-night rental situation last year. The lobbyist owners of the townhouse, Vicki and J. Steven Hart, eventually had to push Pruitt out the door, but The Daily Beast recounts another reason why Pruitt was "the tenant from hell":
According to three people familiar with events, Pruitt would not take out the trash during his time staying at the townhouse, believing that a cleaning service would do it for him. There was no cleaning service that came with the apartment, however. And the garbage bags piled up to the point that Vicki Hart was forced to tell him to put them in the canister and to take that canister out to the street the next time he left the building. [The Daily Beast]
Steve Hart is also facing pressure to retire early as chairman of the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen because of his now-famous ties to Pruitt, The Daily Beast reports. President Trump, meanwhile, says he believes Pruitt is doing a terrific job. Peter Weber
Conservative lawmakers and groups have been rallying behind embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, arguing that despite his hefty government spending on travel and security and questionable ethical choices, he's doing a good job at rolling back environmental regulations. President Trump appears sympathetic to that argument. Environmentalists, meanwhile, are starting to quietly and happily question Pruitt's regulatory rollback prowess.
"Legal experts and White House officials say that in Mr. Pruitt's haste to undo government rules and in his eagerness to hold high-profile political events promoting his agenda, he has often been less than rigorous in following important procedures, leading to poorly crafted legal efforts that risk being struck down in court," The New York Times reports. Six of Pruitt's attempts to scrap or delay regulations enacted under former President Barack Obama have already been struck down in court, and he's had to withdraw a regulation on mercury pollution and walk back other proposed changes.
"In fact, Pruitt has not yet killed or rolled back any significant regulations that were in place when President Donald Trump took office," says Michael Grunwald at Politico. If "Pruitt has done a lot less to dismantle the EPA than he — or his critics—would have you believe," however, "it's not for lack of trying," Grunwald adds.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told the Times that the "EPA does its due diligence, consults with [Office of Management and Budget] and other federal agencies to ensure that its work is legally defensible," and Grunwald says that "even if Pruitt fails to create toothless carbon rules that provide lasting protection to the coal industry and other major contributors to global warming, he can protect the coal industry through inaction now," and he more broadly has "the power to act through omission." But environmentalists and some conservatives say that even if Pruitt is still around in two or three years, EPA rules he's vowed to gut probably will be, too. Peter Weber
The EPA has reportedly spent $3 million on Scott Pruitt's security but can't name any death threats for him
Three Republican senators criticized embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Sunday's political talk show, but President Trump seemed to sweep away Pruitt's many ethics scandals on Saturday night. "While Security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA," Trump tweeted. "Rent was about market rate, travel expenses OK. Scott is doing a great job!"
Trump's tweet followed a report in Politico that Pruitt's lobbyist landlords had boot him from his $50-a-night sweetheart rental deal and change the locks last year after he overstayed his welcome by four months, plus a brutal Associated Press article on Pruitt's $3 million in security expenses and counting. AP reached that cost, which includes Pruitt's large 24-hour security detail and first-class flights, from records and an EPA official with direct knowledge of Pruitt's security spending.
Pruitt's schedules show that multiple EPA security agents accompanied him on a family vacation to California, including a day at Disneyland, and to the Rose Bowl and a University of Kentucky baseball game. However, AP says:
On weekend trips home for Sooners football games, when taxpayers weren't paying for his ticket, the EPA official said Pruitt flew coach. He sometimes used a companion pass obtained with frequent flyer miles accumulated by Ken Wagner, a former law partner whom Pruitt hired as a senior adviser at EPA at a salary of more than $172,000. Taxpayers still covered the airfare for the administrator's security detail. [The Associated Press]
EPA officials have justified Pruitt's steep security costs by citing death threats, but "a nationwide search of state and federal court records by AP found no case where anyone has been arrested or charged with threatening Pruitt," AP says, and the EPA didn't detail any threats when asked. BuzzFeed's Jason Leopold tweeted Saturday night that he "filed a #FOIA with EPA for any records of death threats made against Scott Pruitt. EPA said it had zero [records]." Peter Weber
It's hard to imagine having a worse week at work than EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's.
A top aide, Samantha Dravis, resigned; his ethics firewall is crumbling over an apparent sweetheart rental deal from the wife of a top lobbyist whose firm lobbies the EPA; two EPA officials and a White House official tell The Washington Post that Pruitt ordered two hefty and problematic raises he just denied knowing about on Fox News; the Fox News interview backfired; and it was reported that he retaliated against officials who objected to a proposed $100,000-a-month charter jet service, $70,000 for two office desks, and the use of sirens when he was running late. Among other scandals.
Trump backed Pruitt on Thursday, telling reporters en route to West Virginia that he has confidence in Pruitt and, on the way back, that he'll "have to look at" at Pruitt's reported actions but "he's done a terrific job. ... I think that Scott has done a fantastic job. I think he's a fantastic person." Still, Trump's reportedly asking friends and advisers what he should do with Pruitt, he was put off by Pruitt's Fox News interview, and while CNN says Trump started the week suggesting Pruitt might replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general, the job Pruitt apparently really wants, the EPA administrator ended the week with mounting questions about whether he can keep the job he has.
Conservative groups, Republican senators, and Rush Limbaugh are pushing to keep Pruitt where he is, and Trump told reporters Thursday that "Scott's doing a great job where he is," and he has no plans to move him. "I just left coal and energy country, they love Scott Pruitt," he said. "They feel very strongly about Scott Pruitt." For now, Politico reports, "Pruitt's situation is a rare instance in which the president has remained loyal longer than other members of the White House staff, who are eager to see Pruitt gone." Peter Weber
Late Monday, President Trump called embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to tell him "we've got your back," White House officials said Tuesday, and on Tuesday, Trump himself told reporters, "I hope he's going to be great." On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump is not okay with Pruitt's conduct, and the White House is "reviewing the situation."
"By Wednesday, White House officials were describing his situation as unsustainable," The Associated Press reports. "They said the EPA administrator was given a green light to sit down for the Fox interview, adding that if he failed to clear the ethical cloud his job would be in serious doubt." "Pruitt says the left is trying to take him out," Ed Henry, who conducted that interview, said on Fox News Wednesday night. "The problem for him, though, is the White House is mad at him now because he has been giving the left fodder."
— Fox News (@FoxNews) April 5, 2018
In the interview, Pruitt said he did not know about the steep raises his agency gave two top aides he brought with him from Oklahoma, after the White House refused his request for the raises in March. "My staff and I found out about it yesterday and I changed it," Pruitt said, specifying that he had clawed back the raises but not who approved them.
Pruitt also noted that the EPA's ethics chief retroactively approved last year's $50-a-night rental agreement he had with Vicki Hart, the lobbyist wife of Steven Hart, whose own lobbying firm's clients met with the EPA and Pruitt last year. That ethics official, Kevin Minoli, said in a memo obtained by CNN and The Washington Post that he did not have all the relevant information when he evaluated Pruitt's lease last month.
WATCH: @edhenry sits down with EPA Chief Scott Pruitt to discuss controversial pay raise for two of his staff members, condo rental from the wife of a lobbyist https://t.co/2Cp7Sd5xpE pic.twitter.com/2M4oHUAaE6
— Fox News (@FoxNews) April 4, 2018
"A copy of the lease, attached to Minoli's most recent memo, showed that Steven Hart's name had been scribbled out and his wife's name handwritten in," The Washington Post reports. "According to a senior administration official, Vicki Hart herself made the change." Peter Weber