Embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt knows where to turn when he wants some friendly press.
Pruitt, who’s been under fire for the last several days over a number of scandals, took some time to defend himself in media interviews after a day of rough headlines on Tuesday. And the news outlets he spoke to have something in common: They all lean right.
Pruitt gave interviews to both the Daily Signal, the publication of conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, and the right-leaning Washington Examiner. In those, the EPA chief had the opportunity to explain away the controversies, which include staying in a condo tied to an oil and gas lobbyist for $50 a night.
“I’m dumbfounded that that’s controversial,” Pruitt told the Washington Examiner. The lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, president of lobbying firm Williams & Jensen, had a pipeline project pass EPA muster while Pruitt was at the agency, according to the New York Times.
“This was an Airbnb-type situation where I rented literally one room that was used in a temporary status, until I found more permanent residence,” he told the Daily Signal.
Pruitt also stressed that ethics officials at the EPA found that he had paid “market value” for the condo. Former ethics chief Walter Shaub, however, called that decision “total baloney.”
In the interviews, Pruitt also stressed that the ethics scandals plaguing his tenure at EPA — which include using a loophole to increase staff salaries, costly travel, and several other controversial moves — are a deliberate misrepresentation of his actions, aimed at hamstringing the president’s agenda.
“This president’s courage and commitment to make those things happen and him empowering his teammates in each of these respective agencies to say go forth and get results and get accountability, it’s happening. It’s happening here, it’s happening elsewhere. And do I think that is something that some folks don’t like? Absolutely,” Pruitt told the Washington Examiner.
Still, Pruitt doesn’t plan to back down. He’ll “lean in” — like “when a pitcher throws to you inside and tries to knock you off the plate,” he told the Washington Examiner. (The baseball analogy, which was included in the Examiner’s story Tuesday night, wasn’t there on Wednesday morning.)
Pruitt was happy to go on the record with both conservative outlets, but earlier on Tuesday he tried to keep most media outlets from attending a press conference where he announced his rollback of vehicle emissions standards. The only news outlet explicitly invited to attend was Fox News, according to CNN. Few cameras were in the room, and the EPA’s feed of the event broadcast no questions from reporters.
The presser was announced in a tweet, sent out minutes before the conference was set to start, and journalists from other outlets raced to get there on time.
Pruitt may have gotten the idea to turn to conservative outlets because of their previous coverage. Last week, the EPA’s press office peddled a narrative to conservative outlets that Pruitt had spent less than his Obama-era counterparts. While conservative media quickly aggregated the story, the math involved was patently misleading as it failed to note it was comparing a period of eight years to Pruitt’s one year, and ignored the high cost of Pruitt’s domestic travel.
At least one person in Pruitt’s orbit gave an interview to a left-leaning outlet, however: David Rivkin, who worked with Pruitt as Oklahoma’s attorney general and helped the state challenge the Clean Power Plan, spoke to NPR on Tuesday.
“I think these attacks are driven entirely by the fact that he’s one of the effective members of the Cabinet,” Rivkin said. “This is the man I had the privilege of working with for a number of years. This is a man who’s absolutely unassuming, austere in his personal habits.”
Cover image: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks at a news conference at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, on April 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik,File)