CNN reports that EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is finally edging toward the exit, as Donald Trump realizes that Pruitt has become the poster boy for Trump’s own personal DC “swamp”. At last count, there were 15 open investigations into Pruitt’s actions since becoming head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Those investigations have little to nothing to do with Pruitt’s genuine achievement in making the EPA’s name the cruelest joke in Washington. They’re focused on the transparent instances of overspending, cronyism, abuse of power, and general corruption that Pruitt apparently uses as his standard practice. Through all Pruitt’s actions—a list of scandals long enough to launch a brace of soap operas and a few reality shows on the side—Donald Trump has held onto Pruitt, but that long run may, at last, be nearing an end.
Of particular interest is not just Pruitt’s well-known stint as a house guest for lobbyists, but his frequent use of EPA staff to run his personal errands, his staggering examples of largess on the public dime, and his efforts to land his wife both a fast food franchise and a six-figure job with EPA employees doing the legwork. Some of these employees were the same ones who Pruitt gave massive raises—against the rules—by taking funds meant for environmental consultants and routing them back to the paychecks of aides he brought with him from Oklahoma.
The fact that, when he was caught, Pruitt promptly threw his long-time assistants under the bus, testifying before the Senate that he had nothing to do with the raises, might be why there are suddenly so many people inside the EPA willing to talk about Pruitt’s abuses. The fact that he so obviously lied to the Senate, might explain why even Republicans have been willing to open investigations into his actions.
Still, Trump has continued to publicly protect Pruitt. He has said that Pruitt is “being attacked very viciously by the press.” It’s clear that Trump sees a lot of his own actions in those of Pruitt. Protecting Pruitt seems to have become, as much as anything else, a demonstration of Trump’s power. A way of saying “Look, even when there’s someone this obviously corrupt, I can still protect him.” Like the pardons that Trump has handed down to the obviously guilty, Pruitt is a walking embodiment of “above the law.”
But the concern that holding onto Pruitt is harming the chances of Republicans in November is slowly, slowly being driven home to Trump. Chances are the EPA administrator will get a starting role on television this fall—in the ads of Democratic candidates. Because what Trump sees as a prime example of his ability to hold onto power through any level of corruption, is also a prime example of … exactly that.
Pruit’s obsessive secrecy—with two separate security systems, scrambled communications, a penchant for using someone else’s phone, at least a half-dozen different email accounts, and that vaunted sound-proof booth—hasn’t kept some scandals from coming to light. But what's been seen by the public could only be a small fraction of what's out there. To keep the wheels of justice grinding slowly, and maximize the amount of information “misplaced,” Pruitt placed one of his top fundraisers in charge of handling information, with apparent instructions that she make the idea of public information as much of a joke as Pruitt has made of environmental protection.
Pruitt has destroyed any idea of transparency in government by clamping down on records, closing websites, removing data from public view, and redefining the term “slow-walking” to prevent the execution of Freedom of Information requests. He also hasn’t hesitated to flat-out lie to both the media and Congress, on topics large and small.
Trump continues to brag how Pruitt is “setting records” for getting rid of regulations at the EPA. And this does seem to be the case. Thanks to Pruitt, coal mines can dump waste into streams that communities use for drinking water with no concern over cleaning it up. Factory farms can not only dump unlimited waste, they no longer even have to report on air quality or water quality. Surely a big Win! for everyone living downwind or downstream. Oil and gas companies no longer have to report on escaping methane. Mine cleanup rules have been stripped away, along with requirements around the toxic materials produced by copper mining. Even safety regulations for trains carrying hazardous waste have been stripped away—because what the public really wanted was toxic trains crisscrossing the country more freely.
Just the way that Pruitt carved away air-quality regulations around fossil fuels is expected to result in the deaths of 88,000 Americans and result in millions of cases of asthma over the next decade. So … saying that he set a record may be underselling his “achievements.”
Pruitt managed all of this while buying $1,200 “tactical pants,” chartering military planes just to get him to another first-class plane, and getting multi-million dollar private tours of the Vatican, all on the public dime, And he justified his amazing levels of spending by claiming to be endangered by loony leftists who threatened his life … a thing that also turned out to be a big whopping lie.
And in the middle of all of this, Scott Pruitt asked Trump to make him attorney general, so that he could replace Rod Rosenstein, end the Russia investigation, figure out a few hundred more ways to steal public money, then return to Oklahoma where he is certain he can win statewide election. Horribly enough, he may even be right.
In recent weeks, a number of top positions at the EPA have been emptied as people run away from Pruitt. That’s not unusual. Long-time EPA staffers have either resigned or been forced out by the hundreds since Pruitt came to town. However, those leaving now are some of those who came with Pruitt, including all three of the top aides for whom he earlier secured illegal raises. Those departures signal that the ice is getting very thin over at the Pruitt’s personal castle, and neither his bulletproof everything or his private army may save him much longer.
But in a larger sense, it doesn’t matter now if Trump fires Pruitt. Keep him, Fire him. Promote him. But be sure that every Republican running for office is going to wear Scott Pruitt around his neck.