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Pruitt Watch
July 6, 2018

By the time Scott Pruitt resigned from the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday afternoon, he was under more than a dozen federal investigations and beset by an unusually large number of scandals ranging from the petty to the serious and bizarre. The one completed investigation, into Pruitt's purchase of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth, found he had violated federal laws, and a new scandal was looming concerning the potentially illegal retroactive deletion of entries in his official calendar.

President Trump was reportedly getting exasperated with the unending bad headlines, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly "was seemingly obsessed with getting Pruitt ousted," The Washington Post says, and Pruitt had burned his bridges with allies inside the EPA and White House. Trump-friendly Fox News host Laura Ingraham, joining other conservative voices, tweeted Tuesday that "Pruitt is the swamp. Drain it." But Pruitt still had his defenders, including billionaire oil magnate Harold Hamm and Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel:

Prominent Republican donor Doug Deason said he was "extremely disappointed" in Trump, calling ousting Pruitt "one of the only big blunders of his administration." Trump "should have protected him better," Deason told The Washington Post. He told Politico he was specifically "so disappointed in the president's failure to support Scott against the angry attacks from the loony left," arguing that "nothing he did amounted to anything big. ... Scott Pruitt is a sacrificial lamb and I have no idea why." Dan Eberhart, another donor to Trump and the GOP from the energy industry, conceded that Pruitt made some questionable personal choices but called Pruitt "just the latest victim" of Trump's critics. Peter Weber

July 6, 2018

President Trump said Thursday evening that there was "no final straw" that led embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to tender his resignation earlier in the afternoon, insisting that stepping down was "very much up to him. ... Look, Scott is a terrific guy. And he came to me and he said 'I have such great confidence in the administration. I don't want to be a distraction.' And I think Scott felt that he was a distraction." Few others in Trump's orbit subscribe to that story line.

"In fact, Trump had begun to grow tired of the torrent of negative news stories about Pruitt and had come to believe they were a distraction that wouldn't go away," Politico reports, citing an administration official. "Pruitt, who believes he has a strong personal relationship with Trump, has told allies repeatedly in recent months that he wasn't worried about his job, insisting that the president had his back." In the end, The Washington Post adds, citing two administration officials, "Trump forced Pruitt out Thursday without speaking to him — instead having his chief of staff call the Environmental Protection Agency around midday to say it was time for Pruitt to go."

Trump has sounded increasingly "exasperated with his EPA administrator's negative headlines," The New York Times reports, especially an embarrassing report this week that Pruitt directly lobbied him for Attorney General Jeff Sessions' job, and "fresh allegations that Mr. Pruitt had retroactively altered his public schedule, potentially committing a federal crime, had also escalated concerns about him at the White House." Times reporter Maggie Haberman told CNN Thursday evening Pruitt was essentially fired by "staff around the president." Watch her sources' version of Pruitt's ouster below. Peter Weber

June 22, 2018

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who is embroiled in multiple investigations into his ethics and spending, allegedly sent only one email to anyone outside the EPA in his first 10 months in office, the department told the Sierra Club in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. That set off alarm bells for oversight groups, which say they are hard-pressed to believe that an administrator as active and involved with industry leaders as Pruitt has merely sent one email in all that time, Politico reports.

"Americans should know what the EPA is doing, why it's doing it, and who's influencing those decisions," said Melanie Sloan of American Oversight. Watchdog groups are now probing if Pruitt ever used a private email account for EPA business — while it would not be illegal for him to do so as a government official, the account would be required to be searched for a response to something like the Sierra Club's FOIA request.

It is understood that Pruitt often uses other methods than email to communicate, including phone calls and the like. He used text messages in at least one instance to set up a meeting, and nine texts were included in the EPA's response to the Sierra Club. It can be difficult for watchdogs to get their hands on such alternative forms of communication than email.

There is also some question of if the EPA is concealing more emails. Pruitt possesses multiple email accounts, and the Sierra Club excluded from its request two that the EPA said are solely for public comments and scheduling. Read more about Pruitt's missing emails at Politico. Jeva Lange

June 15, 2018

The only person who can fire scandal-plagued Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, President Trump, appears to be sticking by his man, but Pruitt's list of defenders is growing smaller by the day.

On Wednesday, reliably pro-Trump Fox News host Laura Ingraham called for Pruitt's ouster, and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of Pruitt's mentors, said he was almost there, too. After the latest in a long string of Pruitt scandals, this one involving using his official position to get his wife a job, National Review's editorial board said "we are now at a point where a good week for Pruitt sees only one report of behavior that is bizarre or venal." Trump's top aides have reportedly long wanted Pruitt gone. The conservative advocacy group American Future Fund even made an ad calling Pruitt a "swamp monster" and urging Trump to go full Apprentice and fire him.

Perhaps the one man in Washington with no opinion on Pruitt is House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The numerous headlines about Pruitt's first-class travel, unusually expensive security costs, scandalously cheap rent at a lobbyist's apartment, and other embarrassments have apparently escaped Ryan's attention, he suggested Thursday. "Frankly I haven't paid that close attention to" Pruitt's ethics issues, Ryan said, referring the inquiring reporter to the EPA oversight committee. He said he supports Pruitt's "regulatory position," but "I don't know enough about what Pruitt has or has not done to give you a good comment."

If Ryan is concerned about a change in "regulatory position," he needn't be. Pruitt's most likely replacement is Deputy EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist. Peter Weber

June 11, 2018

President Trump is preparing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore after thrashing six of America's closest allies in Canada, but "he left behind a West Wing where burned-out aides are eyeing the exits, as the mood in the White House is one of numbness and resignation that the president is growing only more emboldened to act on instinct alone," report Maggie Haberman and Katie Rogers at The New York Times. Trump "may soon be working with a thinned-out cast in the middle of Season 2, well before the midterm elections," they add, naming White House Chief of Staff John Kelly among those eying the door.

Kelly told visiting senators last week that the White House is "a miserable place to work," a person with direct knowledge of the comment tells the Times. Meanwhile, Trump, fixating on White House leaks and constantly working to ensure a measure of chaos in the West Wing, "has grown comfortable with removing any barriers that might challenge him — including, in some cases, people who have the wrong chemistry or too frequently say no to him," Haberman and Rogers report. With his number of formal advisers shrinking, Trump is increasingly calling outside advisers, especially Corey Lewandowski and longtime friend David Bossie, plus a kind of surprising name:

Among the president's other confidants is Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Trump has dismissed the advice of several aides who have tried to persuade him to fire Mr. Pruitt in light of the growing questions about misuse of his authority. The two speak frequently, and the president enjoys discussing his negative view of Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, with the embattled EPA leader. [The New York Times]

You can read more about the tumult at the White House and why Trump thinks it means he's winning — and some outside experts disagree — at The New York Times. Peter Weber

June 7, 2018

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has reportedly walled himself off from everyone at the agency except a core group of five aides, and two members of that inner circle, executive scheduler Millan Hupp and senior counselor Sarah Greenwalt, tendered their resignations on Wednesday. Both aides joined Pruitt's EPA from Oklahoma, where they had worked in his office when he was state attorney general, and Pruitt famously bucked the White House to give them hefty raises (which he rescinded when they became public).

Hupp, 26, was "tired of being thrown under the bus by Pruitt" and seeing her name in headlines about the raft of EPA scandals involving her boss, an EPA official told The Atlantic. She began drafting her resignation letter on Monday after a House committee released parts of her testimony about doing personal errands for Pruitt — searching for his housing, trying to obtain a used mattress from Trump International Hotel, and seeing about getting a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife, among other tasks — during work hours. When The Atlantic's Elaina Plott contacted EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox — another member of Pruitt's inner circle — about Hupp's departure, he declined to comment except to say: "You have a great day, you're a piece of trash."

Pruitt has spent an infamously large amount of public money on his travel and security, and a scandalously small amount of his own money on rent; there are a dozen federal investigations of his conduct, and more than 100 lawmakers — including some Republicans — have called for his ouster. "Thank you Scott, very much. ... EPA is doing really, really well," President Trump said Wednesday at a FEMA hurricane-preparedness event attended by Pruitt. "Somebody has to say that about you a little bit, you know that, Scott." Peter Weber

June 7, 2018

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is apparently very fond of the heavily discounted midday meal at the swanky White House mess, open only to senior White House officials, Cabinet members, and a small group of other guests. He likes it so much, Politico reports, the White House asked him to lunch elsewhere every once in a while. (Like, say, Chick-fil-A?)

The White House told departmental chiefs of staff in a meeting last year that Cabinet members should avoid treating the mess as their personal dining hall, Politico says, and the obvious target of the gentle rebuke was Pruitt, a person close to the EPA chief said, paraphrasing the message: "We love having Mr. Pruitt, but it's not meant for everyday use." Washington, D.C., has lots of restaurants, and Pruitt's salary as EPA administrator is $210,700 a year — though, obviously, he likes a bargain.

"Pruitt's allies privately disputed that the warning about overuse of the mess was aimed squarely at him, but nobody contests that he's a frequent presence at the White House for lunch," Politico says. Pruitt complains that the EPA headquarters doesn't have a cafeteria and he doesn't have a private dining area, multiple sources tell Politico, and the White House is only a few blocks from his office (not that Pruitt walks, of course). Pruitt also apparently likes to bring guests with him, though those lunch dates do not appear on his public schedule. You can read more at Politico. Peter Weber

June 5, 2018

First-class flyer, luxury pen aficionado, and energy lobby tenant Scott Pruitt is now embroiled in yet another scandal — this time involving fast food chain Chick-fil-A.

The Environmental Protection Agency administrator instructed his staffers to reach out to Chick-fil-A's chairman and president in the hopes of securing his wife a job, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Pruitt reportedly framed his outreach as "a potential business opportunity," only later revealing that he was actually working on behalf of his wife Marlyn, who was interested in opening a location of the fast food franchise. The deal never came to fruition, reports the Post, but government ethics experts say that the efforts alone constitute a questionable use of government time and resources.

Pruitt's executive scheduler emailed Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy in May 2017, after Pruitt had reportedly expressed to staffers that he wanted his wife to start earning a salary. Pruitt also reached out to Concordia, a nonprofit social impact organization, eventually securing Marlyn a short-term job organizing the group's annual conference.

The EPA chief is under federal investigation for a dozen different scandals, ranging from his decision to install a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in his office to his wild spending on "safety measures." Read more at The Washington Post. Summer Meza

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