It sometimes seems that EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has some sort of cloak of immunity gathered about him that keeps him from being submerged by an almost endless series of incidents that exhibit venality, conflicts of interest, and a complete indifference to the most basic ethical standards, concluding most recently with multiple examples of Pruitt using his position and his taxpayer supported staff to get a job for his wife.
A recent New York Times report suggested that Pruitt might be bulletproof because his boss digs him and dismisses any talk of disciplining him:
Rather than trusting the people around him, Mr. Trump has taken to working the phones more aggressively to seek counsel from outside voices, particularly two of his longest-serving advisers — Corey Lewandowski, his first campaign manager, and his longtime friend David Bossie.
Among the president’s other confidants is Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Trump has dismissed the advice of several aides who have tried to persuade him to fire Mr. Pruitt in light of the growing questions about misuse of his authority. The two speak frequently, and the president enjoys discussing his negative view of Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, with the embattled E.P.A. leader.
On Friday, the president told reporters that Mr. Pruitt “is doing a great job within the walls of the E.P.A.,” but that “outside, he’s being attacked very viciously by the press.”
The first real danger sign for Pruitt occurred when one of Trump’s great media enablers, Laura Ingraham, dropped a hammer on him via Twitter:
But then it got much, much worse: Ingraham had one of Pruitt’s old Oklahoma friends and allies, Senator James Inhofe, on her radio show, and he sounded distinctly fed up with his protégé:
“I see these things, they upset me as much as they upset you,” Inhofe told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on her talk show. “And I think something needs to happen to change that. One of those alternatives would be for him to leave that job.”
Inhofe stopped short of going right over the brink and calling for Pruitt to hit the road. But it all sounded at best like an ultimatum:
“Every day, something new comes out,” Inhofe said. “So I’ve kind of taken the position that if that doesn’t stop, I’m going to be forced to be in a position where I’m going to say ‘Well, Scott, you’re not doing your job.’ And hopefully that would change.”
Inhofe also helpfully observed that Pruitt’s deputy, Andrew Wheeler, is highly qualified, so “that might be a good swap.” In other words, there are plenty of people the administration can find to gut environmental regulations and promote the fossil-fuel industry — Pruitt’s hardly indispensable. This message should be particularly alarming for Pruitt since he has long been considered a potential successor to Inhofe in the Senate when his term ends in 2020 (he’ll then be 85).
Since Inhofe has zero issues with Pruitt’s positions on official EPA matters, he’s making it clear that his abuses of his office are way over the line. And the scary thing is that even if Pruitt cleans up his act right away, there’s an ever-present chance that something inappropriate he’s already done will soon come to light. That’s how it works when you are a walking toxic-waste dump.
Pruitt better fully tap whatever emotional credit he has with the president. But he has to wonder if Ingraham and Inhofe would be bad-mouthing him without some sort of green light from the White House.