As a tornado of ethics scandals swirled around Scott Pruitt heading into the weekend, the EPA administrator and avowed foe of breathable air managed to emerge on the other side with his job intact, and even a presidential endorsement to show for his troubles.
But the questions about his casual corruption are hardly disappearing.
On Monday morning, an official from the Office of Government Ethics sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency’s top ethics official, asking him to take “appropriate actions to address any violations” Pruitt had committed.
“The American public needs to have confidence that ethics violations, as well as the appearance of ethics violations, are investigated and appropriately addressed,” the letter read in part.
Later, the EPA official, Kevin Minoli, said that he was referring the inquiry to the department’s inspector general, which carries investigative powers that the ethics office does not.
The letter mentions three areas of concern surrounding Pruitt: the fact that he secured an apartment for $50 a night from the wife of an energy lobbyist whose company had business with Pruitt’s agency (we’ve all been there, right?); his frequent first-class flights back to his home state of Oklahoma on the taxpayer dime; and his reassigning or demoting of EPA officials who questioned his lavish spending habits. These incidents don’t cover all of Pruitt’s wide-ranging impropriety, but they’re a start.
Then there’s the matter of the pay raises. Pruitt has been accused of using an obscure provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act to give two loyal aides huge salary increases, after being turned down to authorize more money by the White House. In a surprisingly tough Fox News interview last week, Pruitt denied knowing anything about the raises under direction questioning from Ed Henry.
“I didn’t know they got the pay raises until yesterday,” Pruitt said.
But the Atlantic reported on Monday that Pruitt almost certainly did know:
“In the last few days, top staffers became aware of an email exchange between one of two aides who received such a raise and the agency’s human resources division. In mid-March, Sarah Greenwalt, senior counsel to the administrator, wrote to HR in an attempt to confirm that her pay raise of $56,765 was being processed. Greenwalt “definitively stated that Pruitt approves and was supportive of her getting a raise,” according to an administration official who has seen the email chain.”
Now, the magazine reports, Pruitt deputies are trying to shield the damning email from the inspector general, which, given the fact that you’re reading about it right now, may not be a workable strategy.
Amid all of this Sturm und Drang, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday that the White House was reviewing the allegations around Pruitt — though she has previously echoed the president by defending his tenure at EPA.
Sixty-four House Democrats and two Florida Republicans have called for Pruitt’s ouster so far. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer added his name to the list on Monday afternoon:
But conservatives have largely defended Pruitt in the mistaken belief that he is rolling back all of President Obama’s environmental regulations, and liberal calls for his head may only embolden them, and the president, further. For now, Trump is digging in and sticking by his man.