EPA's Scott Pruitt Faces Mounting Ethics Controversies46:33
April 05, 2018
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the Senate Environment Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
EPA chief Scott Pruitt's future in the Trump Cabinet is in jeopardy after a series of ethics issues.
Pruitt stayed at a D.C. condo owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist for just $50 a day, described by critics as a sweetheart deal in pricey D.C. He's also been criticized for expensive air travel — for example, a $14,000 trip back to his home state of Oklahoma.
On Point guest host Jane Clayson took up the subject Thursday with Robin Bravender of Climatewire, John Harwood of CNBC, and Richard Painter, former chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush.
"$50 a night — this isn’t brain science — nobody else can find a room in Washington DC for 50 bucks a night," Painter told us, describing it as a violation of gift laws.
Pruitt has defended the arrangement, saying in a Fox News interview that it was akin to an Airbnb rental and not a sweetheart deal.
“Pruitt’s statement is ridiculous," Harwood told us. "Of course it’s a sweetheart deal."
Pruitt has also been criticized after two top staffers who are friends of his got pay raises, even after the White House said no, according to reports.
Whether Pruitt can survive the situation is an open question. One factor is the difficulty in getting a replacement through the Senate, ClimateWire's Bravender said. Another factor, though, is the series of wins Pruitt has racked up for President Trump's agenda, which prioritizes deregulation and growth in the energy sector over environmental concerns.
"On the regulatory front, everyone I’ve talked to in the administration says President Trump is extremely happy with him," Bravender said.
Fox News: EPA's Scott Pruitt Pushes Back On Pay Raise, Condo Controversy In F... — "Embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt fired back at critics Wednesday, defending his decision to take a $50 a day condo rental from the wife of a lobbyist and claiming he just found out about a controversial pay raise for two of his staff members."
Samantha Dravis — Pruitt's policy chief and one of the most influential players at the agency — is planning to leave EPA this month to pursue a job in the private sector, according to an administration official."
EPA Chief Scott Pruitt came to Washington to do battle against regulations, the Washington way, and the orthodoxy on climate change. By those measures, he’s had some success. But now he’s accused of sloppy ethics –expensive trips, expensive perks from lobbyists --for starters. And now Pruitt may be joining the list of cabinet secretaries dumped for swamp politics and living high on the taxpayer’s dime.
This hour, On Point: The EPA chief, the White House and ethics in this White House.
John Nichols' book is a scorecard for the revolving door that Donald Trump calls his administration. Now he is caught between a rock and a hard-place because Scott Pruitt is a "Koch man." If he fires Pruitt, and not replace him with another man from Koch, he may find it hard to get funding for 2020, and Pence may take his place on the ballot making America pollute again.
John Nichols in Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field guide to the Most Dangerous People in America (2017) writes a scrofulous account of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, calling him "Mr. Secrets and Lies." Nichols posits that it is possible to pinpoint the moment at which "the world's greatest deliberative body" was remade by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to serve as nothing more than a rubber stamp for Trump’s presidency, and for the fossil fuel industries that have risen to the pinnacle of their power with the billionaire's assumption of the presidency. It came on Friday, February 17, 2017.
The awful truth about Donald Trump's scandal-plagued designee to deconstruct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), climate science denier and corporate errand boy Scott Pruitt, was expected to be confirmed on the following Tuesday. So McConnell and the Republican Senate leaders rushed on the Friday before the whistle was blown to confirm Pruitt as the nation's new EPA administrator. In the lawless, shameless #AlternativeFacts universe that is Donald Trump's Washington, this move stood out. It was the most reckless rejection of basic responsibilities in which the Senate would engage during the transition to Trumpism, and one of the most haunting abandonment of constitutional duty in the chamber's history.
FACTS IGNORED THAT WOULD HAVE DISQUALIFY PRUITT
On the Thursday before the Senate's final debate, Oklahoma County district judge Aletia Haynes Timmons found evidence of an "abject failure" on the part of Pruitt, in his role as state attorney general, to abide by the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
Timmons ordered Pruitt to release his communications with oil, gas and coal industry insiders that amounted to over twenty-five hundred emails with fossil fuel interest which had been requested by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD).
Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said the emails could help to shed light on Pruitt's involvement with dark money campaign groups that had sought to prevent open and honest debate about climate change and a host of other environmental issues overseen by the EPA. "Not only has dark money poisoned our conversation about climate change, this guy ran his own dark money operation," said Whitehouse. "His 'Rule of Law Defense Fund,' a 501 C-4 organization that does not disclose its donors, has been linked to the Koch brothers, who run one of the biggest polluting operations in the country. But we don't really know the details of that like because it's been kept absolutely quiet."
There is a black hole of secrecy around this nominee's dark money operation: who he raised money from, what the quid pro quo was, what he did with it," the senator continued. "This is a question, Mr. President. This is a test of the Senate. Will this nominee ever tell us exactly what his relationship with the fossil fuel industry is? Will we get these emails in time to make an informed decision before this nomination is rammed through, one step ahead of the emails that the judge said had to be released?"
The Senate failed the test. The Pruitt nomination was rammed through in spite of repeated requests by Oregon senator Jeff Merkley and others for an extension of deliberations until after the release of the emails and an appropriate review by the chamber.
Democratic Senator Merkley initially asked that the Pruitt vote be put off until after the release of all materials that had been withheld by Pruitt's office. [Koch's Senator] McConnell, who had not been present for most of the debate, suddenly appeared and grumbled: "I object." Senator Merkley then made a more modest request that the Pruitt vote he moved until immediately after the Senate returned from its Presidents' Day break. "I object," declared McConnell.
The Republican-controlled Senate upheld the McConnell objection to engaging in full review of Pruitt's record. And approved the Pruitt nomination by a vote of 52-46. The majority leader got his way.
The Senate rejected is constitutional responsibility to review presidential nominations before providing the "advice and consent" that is required for cabinet picks to assume their posts. In its place, the majority embraced Mitch McConnell's new standard. That standard says that, when it comes to doing Donald Trump's bidding, the Senate will proceed without respect for the facts, and the truth that might be revealed by those facts.
PRUITT'S 7500 EMAIL AND THE CMD
On the following Tuesday, the Oklahoma attorney general's office released more than seventy-five hundred pages of emails and other records it withheld to CMD. The group's analysis revealed that Pruitt had maintained a secretive relationship as the nation's most anti-environment state attorney general with fossil fuel companies, including fracking giant Devon Energy, as well as groups funded by the Koch brothers and other [Alt-Koch] billionaire campaign funders.
Among the documents CMD immediately discovered were those revealing the following:
As Oklahoma's attorney general, Pruitt used template language provided by lobbyists to help advance the agendas of those lobbyists. An energy corporation drafted letters and language for Pruitt to circulate under his own name. Pruitt plotted with corporate representatives to influence is fellow state attorneys general.
What was revealed was scandalous. It outlined relationships that defined Pruitt as dramatically conflicted appointee and that set the stage for Pruitt's wrecking-crew tenure at the head of an agency that he began dismantling almost immediately. Within weeks of Pruitt's confirmation, the White House (which eventually announced plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord) proposed a budget blueprint that included a 31 percent cut to EPA funding that "slashed funding for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs and climate change research and partnership programs."
The Senate failed to consider the whole of Scott Pruitt's record, even though revelations about that record arrived, as had been anticipated, within days of his confirmation. "What happened in the senate on Friday, February 17, 2017 was an egregious cover-up, and a total abdication of the Senate's constitutional responsibility to vet nominees before voting," Senator Merkley said after the vote.
Nichols contends that Jeff Merkley was on the losing side of that vote. But he upheld his oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States." Mitch McConnell was on the winning side of that vote. But in order to prevail he abandoned that oath and shamed both himself and the Senate by establishing the Scott Pruitt rule: #the TruthBeDamned.
THE TRUMP SOAP OPERA CONTINUES
President Trump seems to be having a "senior moment," when it comes to the women suing him for sexual harassment. Maybe he can "make a deal," but according to Jessica Estepa (USA Today 3/21/18): Ex-Playboy model sues to break silence on Trump--President Trump is at the center of two more lawsuits related to allegations of relationships with women before he occupied the White House.
One was filed against a media company Tuesday by a former Playboy model who claimed she had an affair with him. The other came after a New York court ruled that a former Apprentice contestant who accused Trump of groping her would be allowed to move forward with a defamation lawsuit against the president.
Tuesday, Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model, and filed suit to be freed from a deal she said she made to remain silent about an alleged affair with Trump.
Summer Zervos, the former Apprentice contestant accused Trump of groping her, then defaming her during the presidential election. Trump's lawyers asked a New York court to dismiss Zervos' suit. The court denied the request. In its ruling, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Schecter said, "No one is above the law."
Former porn star Stormy Daniels said she was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about her relationship with Trump. She argued that the non-disclosure agreement she signed was invalid because Trump never signed it.
White evangelicals fueled Donald Trump's campaign, but some worry about recent sex scandals and the effect they could have on the midterms.
Updated at 10:18 a.m. ET
As allegations continue to swirl about the president and a payout to a porn star to cover up a sexual encounter, evangelical leaders are organizing a sit-down with President Trump in June, four sources with knowledge of the planned meeting tell NPR.
"We're very concerned" about the allegations, said a leader of a faith-based ministry. The leader is involved in hosting the gathering, which organizers are aiming to take place June 19 at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. The source said the combination of the Stormy Daniels sex-scandal allegations and Trump's continued reputation for divisive rhetoric could suppress evangelical turnout in the November midterm elections.
"It is a concern of ours that 2018 could be very detrimental to some of the other issues that we hold dear," like preserving religious liberty and restricting abortion rights, the source noted. The source, like the others with knowledge of the event, spoke to NPR on the condition of anonymity so as to not jeopardize the meeting.
Trump has denied Daniels' allegations. Speaking with reporters on Air Force One on Thursday, he also denied knowing about the payment that his attorney, Michael Cohen, made to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, days before the 2016 presidential election. She alleges she was paid $130,000 not to talk about the alleged affair.
Sources say organizers are working to firm up planning for the daylong event with the White House before sending invitations to hundreds of conservative Christian pastors and political leaders in the coming days.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on Thursday.
Trump has been invited to take questions from the evangelical leaders for roughly 90 minutes during the meeting. It's not clear whether the allegations from Daniels — or another woman who alleges she had an affair with Trump, former Playboy model Karen McDougal — are likely to come up while the president is on stage in a more open session.
But a source said the president is likely to be asked about the women during private discussions in at least a "sidebar conversation."
The ministry leader said Trump's tone and personal life remain a concern for many evangelicals.
"There's things that are like fingernails on the chalkboard to people of faith. That's not who we are; that's not a 'fruit of the Spirit'; that's not leading with humility," the source said, referencing a passage in the New Testament book of Galatians that describes the character traits Christians exhibit.
The meeting is part of an effort to rally and reassure conservative voters, especially white evangelicals who fueled Trump's run to the White House, ahead of this year's midterms. But it also could raise questions about the ethics of holding such events, organized through the White House, at Trump's hotel just a few blocks from the White House.
That prospect did not seem to concern the evangelical leaders involved with booking the event.
"That doesn't even cross our mind," said one person with knowledge of the planning, adding that the hotel was chosen because "this is probably the best deal in D.C."
A chance to "reconvene" and "encourage enthusiasm"
On issues like abortion, religious freedom and Israel policy, many conservative Christians say Trump has followed through on his campaign promises. One source noted that many white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016 with the knowledge that "with Trump, it was going to be a gamble" but with no hope that Democrat Hillary Clinton would deliver on any of their top-priority issues.
The June meeting will be a chance for evangelical leaders to seek reassurance from Trump and to talk about how to mobilize conservatives around other issues this fall, a source said.
"Let's reconvene," the source said, "and let's see what we can do to encourage enthusiasm — beyond Trump, so to speak."
Such a meeting with the president would mirror a similar event held two years ago, when hundreds of mostly white evangelical Protestants gathered at a New York hotel to meet with then-candidate Trump.
The purpose of that gathering was largely to reassure evangelicals concerned about the presumptive Republican nominee's reputation for vulgarity and his multiple marriages. It was a few months before the revelation of the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump could be heard bragging about groping women's genitals without their consent.
It was a "pivotal moment" in Trump's 2016 campaign, said Ken Blackwell, a conservative activist who advised the Trump transition team. Many evangelical leaders had backed other candidates in the Republican primary, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
"It's an element of his base that can be mobilized quickly," Blackwell said. "It is organized, as was demonstrated in the 2016 elections. It is a block of voters that will make a difference in outcomes, if they turn out [in 2018]."
Voting, a Christian's "civic duty"?
In addition to meeting with Trump, participants also plan to spend several hours discussing priorities and strategy for the midterms, which could include inserting reminders in church bulletins to head to the polls on Election Day.
Another source with knowledge of the plans for the event tells NPR that the gathering will encourage pastors and other leaders to frame voting as a Christian's "civic duty," rather than urging churchgoers to support a particular political party.
That said, white evangelicals overwhelmingly favor Republican candidates at the polls. Whatever their misgivings, 81 percent of self-identified white evangelicals voted for Trump in the November 2016 election. Recent polls suggest a majority still back Trump despite the Daniels allegations, though his popularity with the group took a dip when the news initially broke.
The source with knowledge of plans for the June meeting told NPR that organizers have worried that some evangelicals might avoid the event because of the Daniels controversy.
"For some evangelical leaders," the source said, "it's a liability."
But others, including Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America, expressed optimism that the president will weather the Daniels storm.
"I just honestly don't hear hand-wringing over the issue," Nance said. "They're not surprised; they made that decision a long time ago. This president is not Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee; he doesn't pretend to be a Bible-banging evangelical."
Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, also said it's "highly dubious" that the allegations will substantially erode support for the president or suppress midterm turnout.
Reed said he will attend the meeting with the president if the planning moves forward. Given how organized and energized Democrats are this year, he said it's important for evangelical leaders to rally their base.
"If these folks don't turn out in record numbers in 2018," Reed said, "it's gonna be a long night for Republicans."
Johnnie Moore, an informal evangelical adviser to Trump, downplayed the discussions, calling them "entirely conceptual" at this stage.
Moore described himself as an "observer" rather than an organizer but did say conversations are underway about a potential gathering of hundreds of evangelicals in Washington, D.C., in the coming months.
"There is a very active discussion about the desire of evangelical leaders to get together again, principally to discuss policy issues going into 2018. And it has nothing to do with any questions about the past life of our president."
As for the format, Moore said that, too, is still being discussed, and the president would not be the "center of the discussion" — though Moore said that if 1,000 evangelicals gather in Washington, he believes the president would try to meet with them.
Moore noted that many conservative Christians are pleased with Trump's policy record so far and are eager to talk about "what's next" for their policy priorities.
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds, and to his disciples,2 “You would think these Jewish leaders and these Pharisees were Moses, the way they keep making up so many laws![a]3 And of course you should obey their every whim! It may be all right to do what they say, but above anything else, don’t follow their example. For they don’t do what they tell you to do.4 They load you with impossible demands that they themselves don’t even try to keep.
5 “Everything they do is done for show. They act holy[b]by wearing on their arms little prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside,* and by lengthening the memorial fringes of their robes.6 And how they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the reserved pews in the synagogue!7 How they enjoy the deference paid them on the streets and to be called ‘Rabbi’ and ‘Master’!8 Don’t ever let anyone call you that. For only God is your Rabbi and all of you are on the same level, as brothers.9 And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven should be addressed like that.10 And don’t be called ‘Master,’ for only one is your master, even the Messiah.
11 “The more lowly your service to others, the greater you are. To be the greatest, be a servant.12 But those who think themselves great shall be disappointed and humbled; and those who humble themselves shall be exalted.
13-14 “Woe to you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders. Hypocrites! For you won’t let others enter the Kingdom of Heaven and won’t go in yourselves. And you pretend to be holy, with all your long, public prayers in the streets, while you are evicting widows from their homes. Hypocrites!15 Yes, woe upon you hypocrites. For you go to all lengths to make one convert, and then turn him into twice the son of hell you are yourselves.16 Blind guides! Woe upon you! For your rule is that to swear ‘By God’s Temple’ means nothing—you can break that oath, but to swear ‘By the gold in the Temple’ is binding!17 Blind fools! Which is greater, the gold, or the Temple that sanctifies the gold?18 And you say that to take an oath ‘By the altar’ can be broken, but to swear ‘By the gifts on the altar’ is binding!19 Blind! For which is greater, the gift on the altar, or the altar itself that sanctifies the gift?20 When you swear ‘By the altar,’ you are swearing by it and everything on it,21 and when you swear ‘By the Temple,’ you are swearing by it and by God who lives in it.22 And when you swear ‘By heavens,’ you are swearing by the Throne of God and by God himself.
23 “Yes, woe upon you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders—hypocrites! For you tithe down to the last mint leaf in your garden, but ignore the important things—justice and mercy and faith. Yes, you should tithe, but you shouldn’t leave the more important things undone.24 Blind guides! You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.
25 “Woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders—hypocrites! You are so careful to polish the outside of the cup, but the inside is foul with extortion and greed.26 Blind Pharisees! First cleanse the inside of the cup, and then the whole cup will be clean.
27 “Woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders! You are like beautiful mausoleums—full of dead men’s bones, and of foulness and corruption.28 You try to look like saintly men, but underneath those pious robes of yours are hearts besmirched with every sort of hypocrisy and sin.
29-30 “Yes, woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders—hypocrites! For you build monuments to the prophets killed by your fathers and lay flowers on the graves of the godly men they destroyed, and say, ‘We certainly would never have acted as our fathers did.’
31 “In saying that, you are accusing yourselves of being the sons of wicked men.32 And you are following in their steps, filling up the full measure of their evil.33 Snakes! Sons of vipers! How shall you escape the judgment of hell?
34 “I will send you prophets, and wise men, and inspired writers, and you will kill some by crucifixion, and rip open the backs of others with whips in your synagogues, and hound them from city to city,35 so that you will become guilty of all the blood of murdered godly men from righteous Abel to Zechariah (son of Barachiah), slain by you in the Temple between the altar and the sanctuary.36 Yes, all the accumulated judgment of the centuries shall break upon the heads of this very generation.
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones all those God sends to her! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.38 And now your house is left to you, desolate.39 For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you are ready to welcome the one sent to you from God.”[c]