After President Trump embarked on a firing spree last month, reports emerged that he was considering axing all “deadweight” members of his Cabinet. Incredibly, as other Trump officials tried to lay low, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt found himself at the center of yet another ethics scandal last week when ABC News revealed that during his first six months in Washington, he lived in a $50-a-night rental room in a Capitol Hill condo co-owned by a top energy lobbyist’s wife.
On Monday Politico reported that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is still considering firing Pruitt in the coming months, and suddenly there was a flurry of reports about the EPA chief’s ethically questionable behavior. Hmm! Here’s a quick guide to why Pruitt is pulling ahead in the race to be the next Trump official to hear “you’re fired!” (Or rather, read it in a tweet.)
• Pruitt appears to be hanging on because despite various scandals, he’s been effective in rolling back environmental protections, just as Trump wanted. For instance, on Monday he announced that the EPA will do away with the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas and fuel emissions standards for cars and trucks.
But Politico suggests Pruitt isn’t necessarily safe, Kelly just wanted to wait for the results of an inspector general’s report on his lavish travel habits, which involved spending at least $163,000 on first-class flights, charter flights, and a ride on a military jet. The IG is also looking into the $43,000 Pruitt spent to install a soundproof phone booth in his office. Which brings us to …
• The Wall Street Journal’s report on Monday that the White House is conducting a review of Pruitt’s activities in light of reports about his former living arrangements — though the EPA said it was no big deal:
The purpose of the inquiry is to “dig a little deeper,” the first official said, indicating that the White House isn’t satisfied with a statement from the EPA last week that the $50-a-night lease agreement didn’t violate federal ethics rules.
A memo from an EPA ethics official, dated March 30, said that if Mr. Pruitt were to have used the home for 30 days, the rent would come to $1,500. That sum, the official, Kevin Minoli, wrote, is “a reasonable market value.”
• The Daily Beast shared an interesting fact about Pruitt’s occasional abode: During the time Pruitt was living there, at least three members of Congress held fundraisers there for their congressional campaigns. The EPA claimed Pruitt wasn’t at the fundraisers, and noted Cabinet secretaries are allowed to attend political events.
• Maybe that’s not such a big deal, as few are living up to the “drain the swamp” mantra. But the New York Times reported on Monday that while Pruitt was staying at the condo owned by the wife of a Williams & Jensen lobbyist, the EPA signed off on one of its client’s projects.
Williams & Jensen was registered as lobbying for the Canadian energy company Enbridge Inc. on “issues affecting pipelines and construction of new pipelines” at the time. However, a spokesperson for the firm denied that it intervened with the EPA or Pruitt regarding the pipeline expansion. Pruitt’s spokesperson added: “Any attempt to draw that link is patently false.”
• Bringing things back around to an old school Pruitt scandal, the Washington Post reported that in an effort to better accommodate Pruitt’s pricey travel expenses during his first few months on the job, his aides looked into leasing a private jet on a monthly basis. The plan was reportedly scuttled after some top advisers objected to paying an estimated $100,000 per month for the jet.
The option was explored prior to September 2017, when Tom Price was ousted as secretary of health and human services over his penchant for taxpayer-funded charter flights — though he didn’t even have any weird, expensive office furniture.