How much national news coverage is Scott Pruitt getting these days over things at the EPA? Obviously, far more than he wants and ever expected to get.
Just consider how Politico’s Morning Energy Report covered things last Friday:
WHAT COMES NEXT? EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt fared seemingly well Thursday, at least comparatively – appearing in no contentious interviews and receiving a fuller backing from the president. Of course, that could all change today. White House officials, conscious of how quickly Trump’s mind can change about defending top advisers, have avoided publicly making any definitive statements about how long Pruitt will remain in his job, POLITICO’s Eliana Johnson and Andrew Restuccia report.
RENT’S DUE: Eliana and Andrew also report the administrator was sometimes slow to pay the rent on his $50-per-night lease in Capitol Hill, according to two people with knowledge of the situation. Pruitt’s lobbyist-turned-landlord had to pester him for payment, although it appears he eventually paid his back rent. More here.
STRONG FEELINGS: President Donald Trump praised Pruitt multiple times throughout Thursday, although he acknowledged that he would “have to look at” all of the reports on the EPA administrator. “He’s been very courageous. It hasn’t been easy, but I think he’s done a fantastic job,” Trump said of Pruitt. The president was returning from an event in West Virginia, where “they love Scott Pruitt,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pruitt kept a low profile Thursday: The EPA chief headed to Kentucky, where he addressed members of the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies on the agency’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards attainment goal and the Trump administration’s efforts to speed up the environmental permitting process. “EPA is making tremendous progress working with states and our co-regulators to improve air quality and provide regulatory certainty for local communities,” Pruitt said in a statement released after the event.
And he may stay out of sight today too: Plans for a public event with Pruitt at the White House to announce changes to the air quality standards program today have apparently been shelved, but Trump still intends to sign an executive order on the subject, The Washington Post reports. Pruitt had said earlier this week that an announcement on the new policy was in the works, but EPA did not respond to ME’s questions Thursday night.
DRIP, DRIP, DRIP: More Pruitt stories emerged Thursday, culminating in an explosive report from The New York Times that detailed how at least five EPA officials were reassigned or demoted, or requested new jobs, after raising concerns about Pruitt’s spending habits and ability to manage. Pruitt at one point requested the use of emergency sirens to get him and his security detail through D.C. traffic, including at least one trip to French restaurant Le Diplomate, according to the Times. Read the full report here.
Other Thursday headlines include:
– Pruitt endorsed raises for two of his aides, The Washington Post reports, though he left it to others to actually carry out the pay increases. Two EPA officials and one from the White House told the Post that Pruitt told subordinates to give the raises to senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, his director of scheduling and advance, both of whom had worked for him in Oklahoma.
– Even with the continued spray of scandals, CNN reported Trump floated replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Pruitt as recently as this week. “He was 100 percent still trying to protect Pruitt because Pruitt is his fill-in for Sessions,” one source familiar with Trump’s thinking told CNN.
– The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs issued a citation to the owner of Pruitt’s condo, due to lack of proper licensing to rent the unit. A NBC 4 Washington reporter tweeted the fine could hit $2,034.
THE $16,000 SEAT: That’s about how much it cost for Pruitt to fly to Morocco last year, according to a new letter from the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, citing documents the panel received from EPA. Rep. Elijah Cummings said the documents showed “that Mr. Pruitt’s seat cost $16,164,” but were insufficient to determine the full costs for Pruitt and his aides on that and other trips. He asked Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy to issue a subpoena for more. Read that letter here.
WHERE THE GOP STANDS: Republicans aren’t going to give up a fight for Pruitt’s permanence any time soon. A leadership aide tells POLITICO’s Burgess Everett that the Senate won’t be able to confirm a conservative EPA administrator if Pruitt is canned. That may contribute to the choir of GOP voices who are still standing firmly in the embattled EPA administrator’s corner. Conservatives like Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz vocalized their support on Twitter Thursday. “He’s been an effective member of the President’s team,” Sen. Jim Inhofe said in a statement.
HART WEIGHS IN: Energy lobbyist Steven Hart, whose wife Vicki co-owned the condo rented to Pruitt, expressed regret in a statement released to POLITICO. Hart said he was taking the matter “very seriously” and apologized to his wife, “whose fantastic career is being maligned unnecessarily.” Hart also reiterated that the condo was not owned by his firm Williams & Jensen, its partners or any other employees of the firm. “[A]ny suggestion that Administrator Pruitt’s short-term rental of one of its bedrooms in 2017 resulted in undue influence for the firm or its clients with business before the EPA is simply false,” Hart said. “I am confident in these facts, and certain that all fair and impartial assessments of the matter will conclude accordingly.”
IG REQUESTS ABOUND: Democratic Sens. Tom Carper and Sheldon Whitehouse asked EPA’s inspector general to expand an existing investigation into Pruitt’s alleged use of a special hiring authority to give raises to two aides, Pro’s Alex Guillén reports. Alex also confirmed earlier Wednesday that the IG is reviewing requests to investigate Pruitt’s $50-a-night lease agreement – the first step before determining whether to launch a formal probe. Opposition research group American Bridge 21st Century added itself to the list Thursday, sending a letter to the IG requesting an investigation into Pruitt’s rental.
– Another new letter to the IG emerged Thursday from Carper, who raised questions last week – before Pruitt’s scandal saga hit fever-pitch – about Samantha Dravis‘ prior work experience. Specifically, Carper wrote he had been informed that Dravis “did not attend work or preform her duties for much if not all of the months of November 2017 – January 2018.” Read it here.
AD-ING IT UP: American Bridge is also launching new digital ads focused on Pruitt’s “corrupt spending.” The ads will run on Twitter and will target those tweeting about Pruitt, directing them to their petition page.