We will update this post as more scandals surface.
Scott Pruitt is a busy man. He’s incisively worked to undermine U.S. climate policies and implement rules favoring the industries he’s supposed to be regulating from his perch as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He has also managed to squeeze an overwhelming number of deeply swampy scandals into his short tenure. Some have been one-offs, while others have metastasized into uber scandals.
In an effort to catalog the growing hurricane of impropriety surrounding Pruitt, Earther has made you, dear reader and lover of government accountability, a handy list. None have been all-encompassing enough to get Pruitt fired—yet—but that may be because he’s so good at what he was brought in to do. And let’s not lose sight of that.
While the details of these scandals may induce rage, they’re only accoutrements to Pruitt’s systematic effort to dismantle environmental regulations designed to protect human health and the environment. They don’t include his asinine views on climate change, filling advisory boards with industry insiders, or his stupid climate science “debate”. Put it all together, and it’s clear why there’s a first-of-its-kind campaign to oust him.
The round-the-clock security
In the first three months as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt racked up $832,735.40 in costs for his 24/7 security detail. That’s more than double what his predecessors, Gina McCarthy and Lisa Jackson, spent in their first three months on the job according to E&E News, which adds up since Pruitt is the first EPA administrator to ever request a permanent security detail.
Of course Pruitt deserves to be protected, but his requests have at times appeared excessive. According to a letter from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) obtained by CNN, his detail traveled with Pruitt to the Rose Bowl to watch his beloved Sooners get whupped, and Disneyland. During a six-week period, Pruitt pulled up to 36 agents into protecting him, according to the letter. Those agents would normally be working on cases involving pollution and EPA-related crime.
I guess with the regulatory rollbacks, maybe there’s less work for them?
The luxury travel
In an administration rife with luxury travel scandals, Pruitt has still managed to stand out. He’s made the American public pony up $160,000 for travel internationally, including to promote natural gas in Morocco, which isn’t even his job. He’s also regularly charged the public thousands of dollars for first class flights across the U.S., including flight ranging from $1,172 up to $3,610 to attend conferences put on by the fossil fuel and chemical industries, which again, he is supposed to regulating.
Pruitt has claimed he has to fly first class because of “a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment.” Indeed, a fellow traveler reportedly approached him in an airport and told him to “you’re fucking up the environment.” Which to be fair, yes.
But rather than answering for his policy choices to the public, he’s decided to seal himself off in first class. Oh, and his security detail often flew first class with him. 🙃
In early March, Pruitt said he would fly coach “on my very next flight.” No word on subsequent flights.
Update: So yeah, about Scott Pruitt’s Morocco trip. It cost $100,000, more than twice what was previously reported. And it gets even sketchier. The trip was organized by Richard Smotkin, a former Comcast lobbyist who has known Pruitt for “roughly a decade,” according to an exhaustive report from the Washington Post, which uncovered the new details. After the trip went off without a hitch, the Moroccan government kicked Smotkin a 40,000-a-month contract to lobby on its behalf.
And the administrator’s luxury trip to Italy to attend the G7 environmental ministerial meeting? That’s also getting murkier by the minute. The New York Times reported that Leonard Leo, head of supremely conservative Federalist Society which Pruitt has spoken in front of, helped arrange parts of that trip. He also went along for a private Mass at the Vatican, and to a fancy dinner, including travel in Pruitt’s motorcade (no word on if they used the sirens).
Both Smotkin and Leo apparently enjoy privileged status with Pruitt’s EPA. If either called Mr. Pruitt’s office “and asked for something, we did it, it doesn’t matter what it was,” a former official told the Times.
The private jet
Sometimes first class travel just isn’t luxurious, er safe, enough. Scott Pruitt’s team explored the possibility of leasing a private jet by the month at a cost of nearly $100,000 per month according to a report from the Washington Post. The idea nixed by advisers. Probably a good call.
The sweetheart condo deal
On the occasions when Pruitt wasn’t jet setting, he spent his first six months renting a bedroom for $50 per night—well below market rate for Capitol Hill—from a fossil fuel lobbyist’s wife. The scandal has exploded and includes such lurid details as Pruitt’s daughter crashing there during her summer internship, and Republican fundraisers held in the building. But the most damning part of the whole thing is the EPA signed off on a pipeline expansion for a company that was connected with the lobbyist linked with the condo.
If you think this looks like bribery, you’re not alone. Democrats have asked the EPA’s inspector general to investigate the arrangement and Republicans have called on Pruitt to step down. Even the White House has started an inquiry.
Update: It’s getting even sketchier. The original lease Pruitt had listed Steve Hart, the lobbyist, as the landlord. It was crossed out and his wife’s name was inked in according to the AP, which viewed the documents. (You can see for yourself over at the Washington Post.)
Oh, and Pruitt frequently fell behind on his whopping $50 per night payments according to Politico.
Oh, and the EPA official who said it was above the board has now said, yeah, maybe not so much.
Oh, and one more thing. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) lived in the condo building at one point. She said rent runs $5,000 so yeah, that $50 per night thing is a sweet deal. In an interview with E&E News, she said, “This is not a petty story, this is a full-blown scandal.”
The soundproof room
Update: Installing it wasn’t only sketchy, it was illegal. The Government Accountability Office reviewed the booth at the behest of Congressional Democrats and found Pruitt violated not one, but two laws, because his booth cost well above the $5,000 limit on office furniture and decorations, and because he failed to notify Congress. In doing so, he violated the Antideficiency Act, which can be cause for removal from office, up two years in prison, and $5,000 in fines (don’t hold your breath).
The EPA had argued that the booth is “analogous to other functional items an employee might require to perform his job duties such as a high speed computer, high speed copier/scanner, or television,” which is a pretty weird case to make, but also, can we please get a secret box at Gizmodo Media headquarters?
Sweeping for bugs and installing biometric locks
Also totally normal to spend thousands of dollars sweeping said office for bugs and purchasing biometric locks.
Refusing to release his schedule
Pruitt’s schedule has also been shrouded in secrecy, again representing a break from his predecessors. News organizations have gotten copies of it through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and it’s clear why Pruitt would want to keep it under wraps. His days are largely spent meeting with industry representatives and traveling to and from his home in Oklahoma. He started releasing a schedule late last year, due in part to an overwhelming number of FOIA requests.
Tons of unanswered FOIA requests
About those FOIA requests. There have been a lot of them. The EPA saw a 400 percent increase in FOIA requests last year compared to 2016, according to an analysis by the Project on Government Oversight. That same analysis showed Pruitt’s office has been particularly slow to respond, with 83 percent of cases still open vs. 21 percent agency-wide.
Giving out $120,000 for press opposition research
Pruitt has largely avoided the press outside of friendly, conservative outlets. But that hasn’t stopped him from trying to keep track of journalists. His office signed a $120,000 no-bid contract with a firm with a president billed as a “a master of opposition research” and senior vice president who took part in a campaign to shape negative opinions around Senator Elizabeth Warren through “scathing op-eds and online hot takes.” The news, first reported by Mother Jones, and ensuing firestorm around it caused the EPA to cancel the contract.
General press hostility
Even without an opposition research firm, Pruitt has largely fought against allowing the free press to cover him. The EPA press office attacked an AP journalist after he reported on Superfund sites flooded in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. And more recently, CNN reports Pruitt attempted to only allow Fox News to air his press conference on rolling back clean car rules.
Trickle down corruption is real. The EPA has granted a waiver to John Konkus, one of Pruitt’s top aides, to freelance as a media consultant. The agency won’t say who his clients are, though.
Pruitt also gave two favored aids huge salary bumps of $56,765 and $28, 130 through a backdoor provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act after the White House told him not to. The Atlantic, which first reported the raises, quoted an anonymous EPA official as saying “this whole thing has completely gutted any morales I had left to put up with this place.” Which of course may just be the point.
And in a scandal that likely would’ve disqualified Pruitt from being nominated in any other administration, he once took fossil fuel industry talking points about fracking and slapped them right on Oklahoma state letterhead.
Devon Energy’s response? “Outstanding!”
Using sirens to get to dinner
Pruitt reportedly asked EPA officials to use the sirens and flashing lights to expedite his travel through Washington, D.C. traffic, a perk normally only afforded the president. This included on trips to the airport (where remember, he boarded first class flights) and dinner at Le Diplomate, which to be fair, has four stars and 2,351 reviews on Yelp. Sometimes you get hangry, I guess. And lest you think this was all necessary because he left more than enough time to get to dinner, the New York Times also helpfully notes “he often ran late.”
Reassigning or demoting officials who told him “no”
Do not say to no to Scott Pruitt if you like your job. During his reign at the EPA, he has pushed at least five officials aside who have said no to things on this insane list of scandals you are reading. The New York Times has an exhaustive report, and the list includes his former head of security who put the kibosh on the whole siren thing (transferred), a Trump appointee who pushed back on the $100,000 private jet lease (asked to resign), and another official who questioned other spending habits (on leave). The whole Times story is completely nuts and you should go read it now.
Bulletproof desk (wait wut?)
Admittedly, there is a lot of gun violence in America. But after installing biometric locks and getting 24/7 security, Pruitt didn’t feel safe enough, so he tried to get a bulletproof desk. Cost (along with another desk outside his office): $70,000. Instead he had a settle for a stand-up desk (gotta keep it healthy!) and a sitting desk that “employees gawked at the size and grandeur of...with some comparing it to the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.” Like I said, you need to read that Times story, which broke the news.
So many new things in a salacious letter
Kevin Chmielewsi, one of the staffers that Pruitt pushed aside for calling him out for his lavish spending, spoke with five Congressional Democrats about his experience with the administrator because, in his own words, what’s “right is right, and wrong is wrong.” The five Democrats sent letters to President Trump and Pruitt outlining what came out of those discussions. They corroborate much of what’s in this post and add new details. You should seriously read them in their entirety.
The new details include allegations that the sketchy raises were “100 percent Pruitt himself,” that the administrator frequently used the EPA as a travel agent to book events in places he wanted to visit, and that he spent well over the legal limit of $5,000 redecorating his office, including framing an 8x10 American flag. Oh, and that Pruitt let one of his favored aides book a first class ticket for the ill-fated Morocco trip for no reason, and then tried to get it retroactively approved. When Chmielewsi—serving as the deputy chief of staff for operations—resisted signing off in hindsight, he said Pruitt’s chief of staff asked him to resign or Pruitt would fire him. Oh, and Pruitt’s chief of staff also allegedly told Chmielewsi that “the nightmare is now yours” when he started his position. Prescient.
Having three (yes, three!) secret EPA email accounts
The Trump campaign? Very concerned about email transparency. The Trump administration? The Washington Post reports that Scott Pruitt had multiple, unlisted email accounts. That raises concerns that emails may have slipped through the cracks when answering Freedom of Information Act requests. The emails include firstname.lastname@example.org—a standard EPA account—as well as email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Because I dunno if you’ve heard, but Pruitt loves him some University of Oklahoma sports.
Democrats are asking for a thorough review. I’m sure Republicans, who raised a ruckus over Obama’s first EPA administrator having two accounts and made Hillary Clinton’s emails a central part of the presidential race, will be down to get to the bottom of it.
Wanting an EPA office close to home...in Tulsa
Pruitt spends an inordinate amount of time traveling to his home state of Oklahoma. So, why not just have an EPA office there?
According to a letter that House Democrats sent to the EPA and Government Services Administration, Pruitt directed his staff to look at opening an office in Tulsa despite the EPA already having a regional headquarters in Dallas. Specifications included “a conference room, secure parking, would be able to accommodate 24/7 security, and included a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) for secure communications.”
Seems a bit extreme. Maybe they could consider WeWork?
Scott gets a legal defense fund
Being this mired in scandal isn’t cheap. Scott Pruitt’s legal woes are mounting, and so of course the only way to deal with them is paying out of his own pocket. Kidding. It’s setting up a private legal defense fund, according to four people who spoke anonymously to the New York Times.
“This has come up more often in this administration than in previous administrations,” Robert Rizzi, an attorney specializing in government ethics, told the Times.
Swamp status: never been fuller.
That time he asked an aide to buy a used mattress
It’s tough to sleep well when you’re busy wiping out environmental regulations. That’s ostensibly why Pruitt asked a senior aide to help him find a used mattress from nowhere else but Trump International in Washington, D.C. according to partial transcripts released by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee. Milan Hupp, who is Pruitt’s scheduling director, undertook the task of finding Pruitt a bed to sleep on as well as a place to put the bed after his $50-per-night condo fell through. This may very well have violated federal ethics laws that bar officials from asking employees to do personal work, whether it’s after work and paid or not. No word on if Pruitt got the mattress, what he paid for it, or why he was searching for an old mattress in the first place. Just check The Inventory next time, man.
He tried to get his wife a Chick-Fil-A franchise
In addition to getting Pruitt a mattress, Sydney Hupp—Pruitt’s scheduler and Millan’s sister—also tried to help Scott Pruitt get his wife Marlyn a gig with Chick-Fil-A. “The Administrator would like to talk about a potential business opportunity,” she wrote in an email to the company’s director of government and regulatory affairs unearthed in a tranche the Sierra Club received via FOIA. That business opportunity wasn’t for official government business, though. It was for Pruitt’s wife.
According to a Chick-Fil-A spokesperson, she never finished the application to open a franchise, but again, regardless this is likely a violation of federal ethics laws. But Pruitt’s efforts to use his position to get his wife paid didn’t stop there. The Washington Post reports he also asked the chief executive of Concordia, a nonprofit that puts on fancy conferences, about potential employment. Concordia ended up having Marlyn Pruitt help put on their annual conference and paid her $2,000 along with travel expenses according to the Matthew Swift, the executive in question.
Update: He also had aides ask conservative donors to find his wife a job, according to a report from the Washington Post. She eventually scored a job at the Judicial Crisis Network thanks to lobbying by Pruitt pal Leonard Leo, an executive vice president at the Federalist Society.
Making staff and security to help him live a life of luxury
I’m at the age where I start to fret about wrinkles. They happen, I know, but still I try to keep those crows feet away with a good moisturizer. So too, does Scott Pruitt. The difference is while I buy my own damn lotion from the local pharmacy, he enlists his $3.5-million (and counting) security team to drive him around to try and find his favorite moisturizer from the Ritz-Carlton. That’s according to a report from the Washington Post, which spoke with two individuals familiar with these lotion runs. Sources also told the paper Pruitt asked agents to pick up his dry cleaning for him, which is I’m sure what they imagined they’d be doing when they signed up for a gig normally reserved for pursuing environmental criminals.
The security detail aren’t the only staff members Pruitt has apparently enlisted to help him keep up with the Joneses. Four sources told the Daily Beast revealed the administrator has aides go fetch him bougie snacks from Dean and Deluca, with some noting that his demands are either “frequent” or “constant.” There is one area I will give Scott Pruitt a pass, however: he has reportedly asked his aides to make him pour-over coffee, which is the only way to drink a hot cup of joe.
But there’s no disagreeing with our friends at Splinter’s assessment of Pruitt: he’s a yuppie motherfucker.
He helped his daughter score a White House internship and get into law school
There’s no denying Scott Pruitt loves his family and using his job—specifically asking aides to do the grunt work—to help them get a leg up. There’s the whole Chick-fil-A fiasco but turns out he’s about more than scoring that homophobic chicken hookup. A swath of new revelations in the New York Times shows he asked aides to help his daughter score a prestigious White House internship.
“We were constantly fielding requests like this, even though this had nothing to do with running the EPA,” Kevin Chmielewski, Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff, told the paper.
The Times also reports that Pruitt reached out to the former speaker of the Virginia House to write a letter supporting his daughter getting into the University of Virginia. Meritocracy!
It’s a sports scandal now
I never thought I would live to see Scott Pruitt make Deadspin, but here we are. Did you know Scott Pruitt is from Oklahoma? He is! He loves his Sooners. We already knew he went to go watch them in the Rose Bowl last year with his security detail in tow, but we now know he paid face value for primo seats on the 50 yard line mere days before the game, according to documents obtained by the New York Times. Tickets on the resale market were going for seven times the price he paid.
He scored the tickets through Renzi Stone, a University of Oklahoma regent who also runs a market firm that the Times says deals “with energy industry clients that include the American Petroleum Institute and GE Oil and Gas.” The Sooners lost 54-48 in overtime, so I guess Pruitt got his money’s worth?
Pruitt also had aides score him access to batting practice at a Washington Nationals’ game on July 5 last year. That game was postponed due to weather. He did get to go to see the Nats on September 28 along with his wife and chief of staff for free thanks to Utah Governor Gary Herbert. They discussed Superfund issues apparently. The Nats won 5-4.