Scott Pruitt unapologetically defends EPA tenure amid blistering criticism

Scott Pruitt, the embattled administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, vehemently defended himself while f...

Posted: May 16, 2018 3:14 PM
Updated: May 16, 2018 3:14 PM

Scott Pruitt, the embattled administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, vehemently defended himself while facing tough questions about his spending and alleged ethical transgressions at a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday.

In his opening remarks, Pruitt said there were some decisions during his tenure he would not have made again with the benefit of hindsight, but he also denied some of the allegations against him and said some were exaggeration.

"So I share your concerns about some of these decisions. I want to rectify those going forward," Pruitt said. "I also want to highlight for you that some of the criticism is unfounded and I think is exaggerated and I think it feeds this division that we've seen around very important issues affecting the environment."

While the hearing was billed to be about the agency's budget, lawmakers were primarily focused on the fact that Pruitt's decisions at the head of EPA are the subject of a dozen investigations, reviews and audits from a variety of oversight bodies, including the inspector general, Government Accountability Office and Congress.

Pruitt contradicts EPA security chief email

Among the new development's at Wednesday's hearing is Pruitt contradicting an internal email from his security chief that showed he encouraged the use of lights and sirens for non-emergency situations while traveling in a motorcade. The subcommittee's top Democrat, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, raised the issue of a former special agent who worked on Pruitt's protection team who claimed he was demoted when he refused to drive with lights and sirens blaring through the streets of Washington.

Pruitt replied that the "policies were followed to the best of my knowledge by each of the agents that serve me."

When Udall pressed him again, Pruitt said he does not recall and that policies were followed by his agents "in all instances."

The Democrat senator followed up for a third time: "You personally requested that on a number of trips?" he asked Pruitt.

"No, I don't recall that happening," Pruitt said.

Udall then pointed to an internal email from Pruitt's former security chief that contradicts Pruitt's testimony.

In a February 2017 email released Wednesday by Democratic Sens. Tom Carper and Sheldon Whitehouse, EPA security chief Pasquale "Nino" Perro told others at the agency that Pruitt "encourages the use" of lights and sirens. Perrotta has since resigned.

When grilled about specific incidents -- including an official agency tweet in April mocking Democrats voting against the confirmation of an EPA official -- Pruitt repeatedly refused to apologize.

"The agency should not have done that," he said repeatedly, when asked if he should apologize by Udall.

At the beginning of the hearing, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who chairs the Senate subcommittee, told Pruitt she was concerned that "many of the important policy efforts that you are engaged in are being overshadowed because of a series of issues related to you and your management of the agency."

"Instead of being asked about the work that you're doing ... I'm being asked, really constantly asked, to comment on security, on housing and on travel," she said.

Udall issued some of the harshest criticism of Pruitt, calling his leadership at the EPA "a betrayal of the American people."

"You have used your office to enrich yourself at the expense of the American taxpayer and public health and such abuses have led to several investigations," Udall said.

Pruitt's previous testimony and what's happened since

In his last congressional testimony about three weeks ago, Pruitt was pressed about his unprecedented security detail, travel practices and massive raises given to aides.

At those hearings, Pruitt told lawmakers the $43,000 soundproof booth installed in his office is not rated for classified materials, the explanation he had previously used to defend the purchase. Pruitt also said he had given his chief of staff the authority used to grant two close aides massive raises, contradicting his claim in interviews to have no prior knowledge of the pay boosts. A whistleblower said Pruitt lied about not retaliating against aides who questioned his decisions. And the inspector general said Pruitt misrepresented to Congress a memo he provided them about security concerns.

President Donald Trump expressed his confidence in Pruitt as recently as last week at a meeting with automakers, where Pruitt sat one seat away from Trump.

Since Pruitt's April testimony, more revelations have come out about Pruitt:

  • The EPA Inspector General undercut Pruitt's rationale for his around-the-clock security detail. At Pruitt's request, the enhanced protection begin on his first day in office, the inspector general said, while Pruitt and his aides have pointed to a memo dated six months into his tenure as justifying justification the detail. The protection team is several times larger than the one used by his predecessors and cost taxpayers at least $2 million last year for salaries alone, CNN has calculated.
  • The inspector general told Congress this week it plans to open a new probe that will "review whether Administrator Scott Pruitt is complying with the Federal Records Act and the EPA's Records Management Policy when using multiple email accounts." Records show four accounts were created for Pruitt. His spokesman has said one is used for administrative tasks, such as scheduling, and another was used only briefly.

  • Among Pruitt's guests at a dinner in Italy last year was Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican official who has been charged with sexual abuse. At the time of the dinner, Pell had not been charged but was under investigation. Pell has pleaded "not guilty" for those charges.
  • Internal emails show how EPA officials shielded Pruitt from facing questions from the public and reporters. "My sincere apologies for causing any difficulty but we cannot do open q&a from the crowd," Pruitt's scheduler emailed the host of one event Pruitt would attend.
  • Industry lobbyists helped plan two overseas trips for Pruitt, including a visit to Morocco and another to Australia that was canceled due to hurricanes. "Rick and I will attend and will be present but will not be listed as members of the delegation," wrote one of the lobbyists.
  • CNN uncovered an "executive protection" playbook posted by the security company owned by Pruitt's now-departed security chief. Among the tips from the 2015 post: "Make protection feel like a perk" and "eliminate many of the usual annoyances of travel."
  • Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host, personally arranged a meeting between Pruitt and California water officials. Within a few months, Pruitt announced a groundwater cleanup project in the area would be a priority for the Superfund cleanup program.

Two of Pruitt's toughest critics -- Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, both Democrats -- do not sit on the subcommittee that will question Pruitt this week, but have requested the Republican chairman overseeing their committee bring in Pruitt.

Also not on the subcommittee is Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who on Tuesday cited a biofuel decision when announcing he is considering calling for Pruitt's resignation.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 770246

Reported Deaths: 8661
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Hennepin1537491923
Ramsey63444980
Dakota57071526
Anoka54052520
Washington33690331
Stearns28419253
St. Louis23735361
Scott21652160
Wright21388171
Olmsted18144120
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Carver1366556
Clay1025399
Rice9985131
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Otter Tail8061105
Benton7477111
Beltrami658079
Mower645541
Douglas629190
Goodhue619985
Itasca618885
Winona611854
McLeod595770
Steele585825
Isanti573074
Morrison557767
Becker534862
Polk512879
Freeborn487642
Nobles481652
Lyon456356
Carlton446866
Nicollet434454
Pine428532
Cass425745
Mille Lacs416967
Brown411547
Todd400036
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Meeker356854
Waseca327331
Martin326336
Wabasha29538
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Houston231117
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Sibley211612
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Chippewa190340
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Watonwan171112
Pope16148
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Rock155319
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Murray135011
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Marshall134520
Pipestone133427
Stevens124911
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Wilkin102814
Lac qui Parle98524
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Norman8789
Big Stone7974
Grant7869
Lincoln7845
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Cook2460

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 474151

Reported Deaths: 6785
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk74657729
Linn29194394
Scott24733274
Black Hawk20335358
Woodbury19207244
Johnson17988100
Dubuque15834229
Pottawattamie14276200
Dallas14109108
Story1288551
Warren774296
Cerro Gordo6951110
Webster6950111
Clinton6929101
Des Moines667594
Marshall641885
Muscatine6352113
Wapello5936137
Jasper578279
Lee565689
Sioux565676
Marion508191
Buena Vista491746
Plymouth463487
Henry389847
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Washington366856
Benton359257
Bremer357168
Boone350937
Carroll346353
Crawford339347
Mahaska322856
Dickinson301052
Clay279133
Buchanan279039
Jackson273546
Kossuth271873
Hardin270249
Tama264976
Fayette260649
Delaware258546
Cedar249526
Page249328
Wright243645
Hamilton233954
Winneshiek233338
Floyd221845
Harrison217777
Madison216925
Clayton214558
Poweshiek211741
Iowa208029
Butler206638
Cass201557
Jefferson201040
Mills199929
Allamakee194753
Cherokee193844
Lyon192941
Hancock187639
Winnebago186633
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Shelby178439
Louisa171052
Grundy168537
Humboldt167727
Emmet167146
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Mitchell164043
Union162637
Chickasaw159318
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