No current member of the Trump administration is more embattled than EPA secretary Scott Pruitt, but back to back to back to back scandals and super-shady ethics don’t seem to have convinced President Trump to fire Pruitt just yet. Instead, the president seemed to double down on Pruitt in a tweet on Saturday night, and specifically defended the EPA head’s controversial actions:
Trump is of course referring to three separate scandals which have embroiled Pruitt: his unprecedented security force and its extraordinary cost; the inexpensive condo he rented in Washington, D.C., from a lobbyist with business before the EPA, and his high travel expenses.
Regarding Pruitt’s “somewhat more” spending, the Associated Press reports that Pruitt has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on a 20-person, full-time security detail that is three times larger than any previous EPA director’s (part-time) detail. Furthermore, when traveling, Pruitt has infamously sought first class airline tickets in order to avoid the supposed security concerns of flying coach, but only when taxpayers were footing the bill. The AP has learned that Pruitt flew coach on personal trips when he had to pay for the tickets himself.
This not-so-small government added up:
Pruitt’s ambitious domestic and international travel led to rapidly escalating costs, with the security detail racking up so much overtime that many hit annual salary caps of about $160,000. The demands of providing 24-hour coverage even meant taking some investigators away from field work, such as when Pruitt traveled to California for a family vacation.
The EPA official said total security costs approached $3 million when pay is added to travel expenses.
The official also said that Pruitt sometimes accepted free plane tickets from an employee at the EPA, whom he hired, which would violate ethics rules regarding the acceptance of gifts from subordinates.
Because Trump appears to have spent most of Saturday watching Fox News and tweeting about what he saw, it’s likely that his comments about the death threats originated there as well. On Friday, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox announced that according to the EPA’s assistant inspector general, “Scott Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him and his family.” But the AP found no evidence of any arrests or criminal charges related to such threats, and the EPA provided none of its own evidence when asked.
And then there is Trump’s other defense, regarding Pruitt’s “market rate” D.C. condo which he rented for $50 a night from a fossil fuel lobbyist — at least until the lobbyist kicked Pruitt out and changed the locks. Put simply, if President Trump really believes that Pruitt’s deal was market rate, he has just proved that he isn’t just an inept president, but clueless about the real estate and hotel industries too:
None of this is to say that Trump’s tweet is some invincibility cloak for Pruitt, as the president is notoriously capricious when it comes to bad press and the bad personnel who generate it. But for the moment, the president seems happier with Pruitt than without him. Whether that’s because Trump just likes sticking it to his fussy headmaster, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, or because he honestly appreciates Pruitt’s efforts to not protect the environment, we’ll have to wait and see what Fox & Friends ultimately convinces him to do.