Scott Pruitt reminds me of George Costanza.
Remember that episode of Seinfeld where the hapless nebbish is trying to get himself fired from his job with the New York Yankees so he can take a job with the crosstown Mets? George purposefully gets food stains on baseball legend Babe Ruth's uniform. He streaks illegally through Yankee Stadium in a flesh-colored suit. In the episode's pièce de résistance he drags a Yankees World Series trophy through the parking lot while insulting owner George Steinbrenner on a bullhorn. Even that doesn't work.
One can't help but think of Costanza's employment suicide quest when considering the sordid tenure of former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt at the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt must be trying to get fired ... right?
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
Pruitt is a habitual line-stepper, an instinctual con artist. He's the company employee who asks the restaurant not to itemize the check so he can bill corporate for two martinis that are technically forbidden, the kind of person who might burn down his own restaurant for the insurance money. And he's somehow been elevated to the highest position of environmental authority in the country.
Pruitt has engaged in a shocking, book-length amount of ethical abuse during his short time in office. When he arrived in D.C. he rented a condo at well below market rates from the wife of an energy lobbyist and stashed his daughter in a spare room. The guy zips around the country with a 24/7 security detail at a cost of $3.5 million to taxpayers in his first year alone. Those heavies broke down the door of his illicit condo when they thought their man was in peril. Pruitt then had the EPA itself repay the condo association. He had this expensive and unnecessary crew pick up his dry cleaning for him. He spent more than 10 large a year leasing a tricked-out Chevy Suburban with bulletproof seat covers. Dude must be next-level paranoid, because he also used taxpayer bling to pay the head of his security detail for a bug sweep of his EPA office.
Those are just the level one scandals. He also illicitly sought dramatic pay raises for trusted aides in defiance of President Trump himself, and then had one of those employees, Millan Hupp, serve as his apartment finder. He also, bizarrely, dispatched her to inquire about purchasing a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel in D.C. I don't even want to know. When Hupp resigned this week, a reporter from The Atlantic called Pruitt's office to ask for comment and was told, "You have a great day, you're a piece of trash" by EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox. This is Trumpism in its purest distilled form: virulent nastiness married to open corruption and a total disregard for accountability.
Pruitt has also racked up huge bills flying first class and business, including to events totally unrelated to his duties as EPA chief. His security detail rang up $30,000 in costs on a one-week trip to Italy alone in June 2017. He spent 45 grand flying employees first class to Australia on a scouting trip for a future visit that hasn't happened yet. Overall Pruitt has incurred over $105,000 in travel costs, including more than $16,000 for a trip to Morocco organized by natural gas lobbyist Richard Smotkin. The trip was designed to promote the interests of liquefied natural gas companies, something that is far outside the ambit of the EPA administrator. And here's where the venality rubber hits the corruption road, as it always does with everyone in Trump's orbit: Smotkin was hired by the Moroccan government after the trip.
Insider dealing, even more than this penny-ante travel grifting, is at the heart of Pruitt's tenure. The man's writ is to turn America's premiere environmental defense unit directly over to energy lobbyists and crooks. That's what he was sent to D.C. to do. And that's why Trump still backs him.
Pruitt gave EPA jobs to business associates Kenneth Wagner and Albert Kelly, who helped him buy an Oklahoma City house at $100,000 below market value. When the press caught on, they both abruptly quit. He has demoted EPA employees who call out his unapologetic wastefulness and grandiose spending habits. He exploited a legal loophole to hire Oklahoma industry lobbyists directly into the EPA itself. He nominated a lawyer named Peter Wright, who had spent his career defending companies from pollution liability, to oversee Superfund cleanup projects. He gave a contract to an Israeli tech firm at the behest of GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson.
We're really only about a third of the way down the list of Pruitt's questionable behavior, but life is short. You get the idea.
At this point the question really needs to be asked: How does this guy still have a job? The only possible answer is that President Trump, who ostentatiously rode into D.C. promising to "drain the swamp," never cared about insider corruption at all. After all, the president is a lifelong grifter who used insider sweetheart deals, regulatory negligence, and open fraud to build his shoddy real estate empire. Pruitt isn't a nuisance but a fellow traveler. When confronted in April with his EPA head's preposterous string of scandals, Trump said, "Scott is doing a great job!" Because of course he did. The weirdest part is that there are a thousand ideologues who could destroy the EPA while flying coach and paying sticker for their apartments. But Trump is drawn to these crooks like zombies to a meat locker.
As for Pruitt, he is delusional. He seems to think he's not the leader of the EPA but rather the head of an international drug ring, constantly in danger of being assassinated, lighting money on fire like kindling, living the five-star life. Either that or he's intentionally trying to get fired in the most destructive and embarrassing way possible. Maybe Pruitt, like Costanza, wanted to "leave his mark." As George dreamily put it, "You know, I want to walk away from the Yankees with people saying, 'Wow! Now that guy got canned!'
At some point, you have to assume that unlike Seinfeld's fictional Steinbrenner, even Trump will grant him his wish.
Create an account with the same email registered to your subscription to unlock access.