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
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."
Reporter: Are you confident in EPA Admin. Pruitt?
Speaker Ryan: "Frankly I haven't paid that close attention to it ... I don't know enough about what Pruitt has or has not done to give you a good comment." pic.twitter.com/sd2DJMwQD8
— NBC News (@NBCNews) June 14, 2018
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
Trump reportedly trash-talks Jeff Sessions with EPA chief Scott Pruitt, an increasingly frequent confidant
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]
EPA chief Scott Pruitt just lost 2 of his closest aides. A 3rd called a reporter a 'piece of trash.'
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
Scott Pruitt reportedly enjoys the inexpensive fine dining at the White House mess to a problematic extent
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
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
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