the national interest

Scott Pruitt’s Scandals Won’t Stop Coming, and Trump Might Actually Have to Fire Him [Updated]

Scott Pruitt. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt’s job has been dangling by a thread, as he has incurred so many scandals that even a reporter from Fox News unexpectedly brutalized him. Pruitt reportedly received a tough phone call from White House chief of staff John Kelly insisting that “the flow of negative and damning stories needed to stop soon,” and asking if any other revelation “hasn’t come out yet.”

Well, there are. Several new developments have made Pruitt look even shadier than he already appeared. The EPA’s ethics adviser, Kevin Minoli, had approved Pruitt’s unusual arrangement in which he rented a room from a lobbyist for $50 a night, and only had to pay for nights he stayed there. (Normal rentals don’t work that way; paying on a nightly basis is a hotel rate, and $50 is way below market price for a hotel room.) Minoli revealed that he was not given all the information about Pruitt’s arrangement. “Evaluating those questions would have required factual information that was not before us and the Review does not address those questions,” he wrote in a memo.

That’s daily revelation No. 1. Daily revelation No. 2 is that while Pruitt has claimed that the lobbyist who gave him his sweetheart rental deal, J. Steven Hart, “has no clients who have business before this agency,” it turns out that this is not true. The Daily Beast reports that Hart “was personally representing a natural gas company, an airline giant, and a major manufacturer that had business before the agency at the time.”

The third Pruitt ethics revelation of the day comes via CBS. Shortly after taking his job, Pruitt was stuck in traffic and asked the head of his security detail, Special Agent Eric Weese, to turn on his sirens to clear cars off the road. Weese, a 16-year veteran of the agency, told Pruitt that sirens were only used for emergencies. Pruitt fired him.

This dovetails with another Pruitt habit, which is a taste for traveling in high style. He has racked up thousands of dollars in first-class travel, apparently triggered by a traumatic encounter in coach seating when a man yelled, “Pruitt, you’re fucking up the environment!” (Pruitt apparently did not consider the possibility that the man was a Trump fan who intended this as a compliment.)

Pruitt has been fighting to hold on to his job in the face of multiplying scandals. Axios reports that Pruitt’s allies are distributing scripted defenses of the scandal-tarred Cabinet member, making two points: “Don’t let the left take down Pruitt. This is really about ideology, and people on the left who don’t like his aggressive moves to unwind regulations,” and “Firing Pruitt would bring endless trouble. Pruitt’s backers say the left — and they lump the mainstream press into that category — won’t be satisfied if Pruitt goes. They’ll just move onto the next cabinet secretary.”

Numerous right-wing columnists have repeated the Pruitt-approved talking points almost verbatim. These include the Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway (“Scott Pruitt Is Trump’s Biggest Asset. That’s Why the Left Wants Him Gone”), the Daily Caller’s Saagar Enjeti (“Conservatives Will Have a Hard Time Ditching Scott Pruitt”), and Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Citizen Patriots Fund (“In spite of his coming under attack from the radical left and their allies in the liberal media, Pruitt is making real progress for the American people at an agency that the left believes it alone should run and control.”).

This isn’t totally wrong. Pruitt is doing what he was brought on to do: fucking up the environment. He was also brought on to enable the wide-scale corruption of allowing fossil-fuel companies to essentially dictate policy. Pruitt’s public career has consisted, in large part, in facilitating this form of corruption, serving essentially as a factotum for the industry’s own lobbyists, who he has hired to run the agency overseeing their employers, and treated them like his boss. Yet he has been unable to avoid the petty corruptions available to a man with his power — hiring his friends, profiting off of access, traveling in luxury at public expense.

With just 51 Republicans in the Senate, it won’t be simple to confirm a replacement as slavish to the fossil-fuel industry as Pruitt. And yet the uninterrupted embarrassments he has brought the administration seem to make it highly likely that Trump will have to do just that.

Update: There’s another new Pruitt scandal. The New York Times reports that at least five EPA staffers were demoted, reassigned, or requested new jobs after challenging Pruitt’s lavish expenditure demands. Those demands included “unusually large spending on office furniture and first-class travel, as well as certain demands by Mr. Pruitt for security coverage, such as requests for a bulletproof vehicle and an expanded 20-person protective detail.” Pruitt requested not only a bulletproof vehicle with run-flat tires that could keep driving even after raked with gunfire, he wanted a bulletproof desk. And he apparently assumed anybody who questioned these demands was his enemy.

Scott Pruitt Scandals Keep Coming, and He May Get Fired Now