News broke Tuesday that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt used a provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act to give significant pay raises to two political aides. It was pretty shocking, but hardly surprising given Pruitt’s background. He’s no stranger to controversy.
Ever since Pruitt assumed the role as head of the EPA, he’s been marred by scandal after scandal, all of which have landed him in hot water with his counterparts in Washington, D.C.
The events don’t seem to be reflecting entirely poorly with President Trump, though. After the most recent news, he reportedly called Pruitt to say, “keep your head up.” As did Trump’s Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, per reports.
NEW: President Trump called Administrator Pruitt last night and said “Keep your head up, keep fighting. We have your back,” per administration official.
COS Kelly called Pruitt this morning and reiterated POTUS’ message.
— Jacqueline Alemany (@JaxAlemany) April 3, 2018
But still, Pruitt has been surrounded by scandal since he was appointed EPA administrator in February 2017. So much so, in fact, that it’s hard to keep track.
Here’s a running list of all the controversies that have involved Pruitt since then.
His penchant for ’round-the-clock’ security
Apparently Pruitt is in dire need of security wherever he goes. And yes, that means even if he goes to Disneyland. According to a letter Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse sent to the inspector general and shared with CNN, Pruitt’s 24-hour security tagged along on at least some of his personal trips, like those home to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a family vacation to Disneyland, and this year’s Rose Bowl game.
The heavy security detail is apparently needed because officials say Pruitt has received far more death threats than anyone who has ever led the agency, thus reportedly ballooning his security detail from 18 to 30. It’s been costly too. According to documents obtained by E&E News, his security detail cost more than $830,000 during his first three months in office, compared to about $465,000 for the same period during former administrator Gina McCarthy’s tenure in 2016.
The letter, which Whitehouse says was based on information he obtained from an anonymous source, alleges that Pruitt used between two and three dozen EPA-funded agents over the span of six weeks on personal trips.
The letter alleges that six weekly schedules and other explanatory documents were provided to Whitehouse, all of which contained details of Pruitt’s use of his security detail. “Significant agency resources are being devoted to administrator Pruitt’s ’round-the-clock security, even when he is traveling on non-official business,” Whitehouse wrote.
His need to always, always travel first class
Pruitt is a bit of a jet-setter, a luxurious one to say the least. Months of receipts obtained in February by the Environmental Integrity Project under the Freedom of Information Act shed light on Pruitt and his top aides’ incredibly high air fares.
A certain stretch in early June showed that Pruitt spent at least $90,000 in travel in less than a week. After an event with Trump in Cincinnati, he and a handful of staffers apparently flew to New York on a military jet at the cost of $36,068.50, all for Pruitt to jump on a plane to Rome — which apparently cost another $7,003.52.
He even spent $1,641 on first-class flight from Washington, D.C, to New York, which cost six times more than the two media aides who sat in coach. If you’re unfamiliar with the span of that flight, it lasts just over an hour.
His shady housing arrangement
Pruitt began renting a room in a townhouse owned by a top DC energy lobbyist in early 2017. It just so happens that that same lobbyist and his wife funded Pruitt’s campaigns for attorney general in his home state of Oklahoma all the way back in 2010, according to The Daily Beast.
But the saga of Pruitt’s housing has been so much more complicated than that. How about the New York Times story that revealed that a client of his condo owner’s firm received EPA approval for an oil pipeline project while Pruitt was an occupant? Or the Wall Street Journal news that the White House was probing Pruitt over his links to said energy lobbyist?
On top of all that, it turns out that Pruitt’s home was also a spot for fundraisers for Republican lawmakers looking to raise money for congressional campaigns. At least three members of Congress had fundraisers at the home while Pruitt lived there, according to The Daily Beast.
It’s safe to say that his accommodation has been somewhat problematic on numerous levels.
That very, very expensive phone booth
How much do you think a soundproof phone booth would cost? A couple of grand, maybe? No, not if it’s a Scott Pruitt-branded soundproof phone booth. That costs upwards of $43,000, at least according to records obtained by The Washington Post.
Yes, it appears as if Pruitt paid that amount of money on a booth for his office last fall. But, why specifically was it that much?
Well turns out the EPA paid a Virginia firm $7,978 to remove closed-circuit television equipment in the closet area they turned into the booth. Then it had contractors pour 55 square feet of concrete more than two feet thick into it, which cost an additional $3,479. And then they added a drop ceiling ($3,361), some patches and paint ($3,350), and you know, some other completely necessary stuff.
The fact that he wants … that other job
The grass is always greener, right? Yep, even if you’re head of the EPA. (Insert incredibly on-the-nose joke about Pruitt being a climate denier here.)
But yes, jokes aside, there was that one time where Pruitt had told friends and associates that he was interested in becoming attorney general, should Jeff Sessions ever depart or be forced to resign, according to a Politico report from January.
“Pruitt is very interested,” a person close to him said, per the Politico report. “He has expressed that on a number of occasions.”
All of this has become a bit of a nuisance to Pruitt’s colleagues in Washington. Some of Trump’s senior aides, reportedly including Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, have griped about the EPA head for the past few days, according to a report from The Washington Post.
Kelly apparently has been irked by Pruitt throwing his name in the ring to replace Sessions (maybe on his own accord), and would rather see him gone. All of this, of course, falls in stark contrast to reports that Pruitt still has Trump and Kelly’s approval, but who knows?
Ambition is all great until it, you know, gets in the way of your current job.
That trip to Morocco
Pruitt and a handful of EPA aides took a trip to Morocco in December 2017, where they spent four days talking to officials about their interest in importing natural gas, according to The Washington Post. They also reportedly discussed other areas of “continued cooperation” between the two countries, per the report.
The thing is, the EPA plays no formal role in overseeing natural gas exports, and those are usually overseen by the Energy Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. So the trip drew some criticism, to say the least.
Those raises tho
Finally, who could forget those raises he gave to two of his political aides using a little-known provision in the Safe Water Drinking Act. It permits the EPA administrator to hire up to 30 people into the agency without approval from the White House or Congress. But Pruitt instead took those funds to give staffers a $28,130 and $56,765 raise, according to The Atlantic.
The latter employee now reportedly makes more than $160,000, which is higher than most senior-level employees at the EPA typically earn.
Keep your eyes peeled for the next Pruitt affair, which will no doubt make no impact on his continuing career.