The last 24 hours brought yet another round of fresh scandals for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, and he’s having a hard time keeping his defenses straight.
Pruitt has long been under scrutiny in the press for his lavish spending on office accoutrements (including a $43,000 soundproof booth), first-class travel, and a larger-than-usual security detail. But in the last few days, the scandals have spiraled out of control, and, while he’s seemed to be a favorite in Trump’s Cabinet, his indiscretions could jeopardize Pruitt’s relationship with the president.
He used a loophole to grant raises to two of his most loyal staffers, defying the White House to do so, and fired one of Trump’s campaign staffers, after the staffer tried to push back on Pruitt’s spending. He apparently wants his own presidential motorcade to take him to fancy restaurants in D.C. And his crashing — Airbnb-style, as he’s said — in a condo tied to an energy lobbyist isn’t doing him any favors either.
But there’s more, just in the last day. Here’s a rundown of everything that’s going on with Pruitt:
Pruitt told his staff to use that loophole to give his staffers raises, in defiance of the White House — then lied about it.
Pruitt did an end-run around the president’s personnel office to give two of his favorite staffers big raises.
The EPA used an obscure provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act to grant raises of about a $35,000 and $60,000 to two staffers, senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt and scheduling and advance director Millan Hupp, who came to D.C. with Pruitt from Oklahoma. Pruitt initially said in an interview with Fox News that he’d had no idea that his staff had given out the raises and that they shouldn’t have.
Looks like he was lying. The Washington Post on Thursday night spoke to two unnamed sources familiar with the matter who said that Pruitt endorsed giving the staffers their raises.
He demoted or fired people who challenge him on his lavish spending, including a former Trump campaign staffer
In addition to the $43,000 soundproof booth, Pruitt apparently also wanted to spend $70,000 on two new desks, one of which would have been bulletproof. When Kevin Chmielewski, who worked on Trump’s campaign, tried to tell him not to spend that cash, Chmielewski was asked to resign, according to the New York Times.
He’s not the only EPA staffer this happened to. He and others objected to Pruitt’s taking buy a $100,000 a month NetJets membership that would’ve allowed Pruitt to travel on private planes whenever he wanted.
Pruitt wanted a presidential motorcade
Over the objections of one of his security officials (whom he later fired), Pruitt insisted on using flashing lights and sirens on his motorcade when he was running late. EPA administrators don’t often use sirens, which are a feature of the presidential motorcade. But Pruitt used them once to make it to a dinner at Le Diplomate, a trendy, D.C. French restaurant, according to the Times.
“He wanted to be treated like he was the president,” said David Schnare, a conservative lawyer and climate change skeptic, who served on the Trump administration transition team at the E.P.A., according to the Times.
His condo “rental” is all sorts of problematic, and he’s also lying about it
During his first weeks in Washington, Pruitt stayed in a condo, owned by J. Steven Hart’s wife. Hart is an energy lobbyist, and Pruitt paid $50 a night to stay there, and only paid during nights he was there.
“I lived in that very building, which is prime real estate steps from the Senate buildings. It costs $5,000 if you want to rent the place. And if you have a room reserved for you any time you want it, you’re essentially living rent-free,” said former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer on MSNBC.
Pruitt has repeatedly claimed that he was paying market rate for the room he rented in the condo. (The EPA’s ethics office is investigating that claim.)
And Pruitt’s said, too, that the energy lobbyist whose wife owns the condo had no business before the EPA. “Mr. Hart has no clients with business before this agency,” Pruitt told Fox.
That’s not true, either. J. Steven Hart is the head of Williams & Jensen, a lobbying firm that has worked on behalf of Exxon, the oil giant that always has lots at stake with the EPA, and Spectra Inc., a natural gas company that had a pipeline greenlit by Pruitt’s agency in March of 2017, according to the New York Times. And another, Stanley Black & Decker, is in a legal fight with the EPA over $100 million in environmental cleanup costs, according to the Daily Beast.
Still, some conservative media has continued to peddle Pruitt’s narrative, including the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board. J. Steven Hart, the board wrote, “has stated that he had no lobbying contact with the EPA in 2017 or 2018.”
Republicans are turning on him
A third Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, joined Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, in calling on Pruitt to resign on Thursday. All three are on the House Climate Solutions caucus, which includes a group of Republicans who have bucked their party by calling for action on climate change.
Outside of Congress, other prominent Republicans are speaking out. “I think he’s well beyond his sell-by date,” William K. Reilly, one of former president George W. Bush’s EPA chief, told the New York Times. “Any other administration would have discharged him a long time ago.”
The other EPA administrator under Bush, Christine Todd Whitman, has long been critical of Pruitt. “It looks to me as though the science has been politicized,” she told VICE News in February.
Things are looking rough, but Trump still thinks he's doing a great job
Things are looking as dire as they ever have for Pruitt. Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly told him that the scandals need to stop, according to the Daily Beast. But, still, even after all that’s happened, the president may still like him. Friday morning Trump tweeted support and denied reports that he wants to put Pruitt in Jeff Sessions' job.
Trump reportedly had floated the idea of a promotion, of sorts, and giving Pruitt the attorney general job as recently as this week, even as scandal after scandal made headlines, according to CNN.