Kevin Chmielewski is a former Trump campaign aide, and current supporter of the Republican president. His loyalty to the conservative cause earned him an appointment as an EPA deputy chief of staff. He supports rolling back environmental regulations; but he opposes using taxpayer money to rent Scott Pruitt a private jet — and so, the EPA director removed him from his job.
Or so Chmielewski alleged in his scathing testimony to Congress. On Thursday, six Democratic lawmakers sent Pruitt a letter detailing Chmielewski’s charges. That indictment is so long and colorful, it’s worth reading in full. But here are a few of the letter’s more incendiary allegations:
• Pruitt “sought to have the agency enter into a $100,000 per month contract to rent a private jet” despite the fact that such an arrangement would exhaust the administrator’s annual travel budget in under five months.
• When this fell through, Pruitt forced staffers to book him on Delta, even though that is not the federal government’s contracted airline, because he wanted “to accrue more frequent flier miles.”
• Another way he accrued such miles: instructing staff to invent official meetings for him to attend in Oklahoma on long weekends, so that he could fly back home at the taxpayer’s expense.
• When traveling abroad, Pruitt insisted on staying at hotels that were both more expensive — and less secure — than those recommended by the U.S. embassy.
• Pruitt ordered one staffer, Millan Hupp, to “act as your personal real estate representative, spending weeks improperly using federal government resources and time to contact rental and seller’s agents, and touring numerous properties in which you might wish to reside.”
• Pruitt’s (previously reported) wasteful security spending included a contract awarded to an individual with professional ties to the head of the EPA director’s security detail.
• Pruitt personally orchestrated large salary increases for his favorite aides.
• The EPA director “insisted on the use of lights and sirens to transport you more quickly through traffic to the airport, meetings, and social events on numerous occasions,” and “permitted your drivers to speed through residential neighborhoods and red lights, far in excess of posted speed limits.”
It’s possible that allegations this serious — and from a source this credible — will convince Republican lawmakers that Pruitt needs to go.
But you probably shouldn’t put money on that. To see why, take a gander at the statement James Inhofe released in defense of Pruitt last week:
Since being sworn in, Administrator Pruitt has been instrumental in carrying out President Trump’s deregulatory agenda at the EPA—ending the war on fossil fuels, repealing WOTUS, exiting the Paris Agreement and announcing new fuel emissions standards.. So far, his reforms are estimated to save taxpayers over $1 billion in deregulatory savings. He’s been an effective member of the President’s team and I look forward to continuing to work with him to restore the EPA to its proper size and scope.
It was hardly surprising that Senator “Snowball” rallied to the defense of a fellow climate-change-denying Sooner, even amid copious evidence of the latter’s misconduct. But it was remarkable that Inhofe felt no obligation to rebut (or even acknowledge) that evidence. Inhofe did not deny that Pruitt had abused taxpayer funds. Unlike the president, he didn’t bother to rationalize the EPA director’s lavish travel and security spending with references to the (alleged) death threats that Pruitt had received. Rather, Inhofe suggested that Pruitt’s fealty to the president’s deregulatory agenda made his abuses of power irrelevant.
Support for this basic premise — that corruption is fine so long as the right people are doing it — is fast becoming a litmus test for ideological purity on the American right. It’s not enough to give lip service to the conservative movement’s policy goals; true believers must prove their faith by defending the indefensible acts of the movement’s leaders. Thus, when Steve Bannon (briefly, clumsily) tried to mount a challenge to the GOP Establishment, he did not target incumbent senators who’d deviated from right-wing dogma, but merely ones who’d evinced insufficient appetite for defending Donald Trump’s every obscenity.
All of which is to say: The fact that many of the most damning allegations against Scott Pruitt have come from a conservative EPA official probably won’t stop congressional Republicans from portraying said allegations as a liberal conspiracy — after all, if Kevin Chmielewski were really conservative, then why would he complain about a conservative bureaucrat stealing from taxpayers?