Scott Pruitt's Ethical Missteps Don't Seem To Have Any Effect On His Standing With Trump

Jun 8, 2018
Originally published on June 8, 2018 6:50 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The controversy around Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt keeps rolling on. For months now, there's been a growing list of ethics scandals. Two more of Pruitt's close aides resigned this week. And news reports detailed yet more times when Pruitt allegedly used his position improperly for personal gain. NPR's Nathan Rott covers environmental issues for us and joins us now. Hi, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: I don't even know where to begin.

ROTT: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: Just this week, there were reports about Pruitt seeking a used mattress from the Trump Hotel and trying to get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise. Help us sift through all this stuff.

ROTT: Yeah. Well, let's not forget, Ari, the stories about him maybe overusing a White House lunch spot to the point where they asked him maybe not to come back, reports yesterday that he asked his 24-hour security detail to run errands for him like picking up his dry cleaning and fetching him Greek yogurt and protein bars. It seems like - yeah, every single day there's a new granular detail about his spending habits at EPA.

And, look, you know, from where I'm sitting in LA, a lot of this stuff seems pretty far away and D.C.-centric. I don't overhear a lot of dinner conversations here about Pruitt sending an aide to buy a used mattress from the Trump Hotel. But these are catchy headlines, and they do help flesh out a bigger picture or trend that I think people do, and certainly government watchdogs do, care about, which is the alleged misuse of a public office.

SHAPIRO: Well, and it plays right into what President Trump said during his campaign about draining the swamp, right? That there were corrupt people in Washington doing corrupt things. Is that accusation of corruption the chief complaint against him?

ROTT: Well, it's certainly one of them. There are investigations or requests to investigate his unusually large and costly security detail. There's investigations to whether or not he punished underlings who questioned his behavior. And there is an investigation into his use of personal email accounts. In terms of the allegations about misusing power, the most recent glaring example is what you already said. That's that he allegedly had one of his EPA employees try to set up a deal with the head of Chick-fil-A to try to get his wife a store franchise.

We should note, though, that a lot of these recent stories - this sort of drip, drip, drip - they are being uncovered from this huge drove of documents and emails that were acquired through a Freedom of Information request by the Sierra Club, a environmental group that is trying very hard to, as they say, boot Pruitt.

SHAPIRO: As you say, there are all of these investigations into him. We have heard officials from former administrations of both parties saying one of these scandals would have been enough to get somebody fired in an earlier presidency, let alone the long list here. Why does he still have a job?

ROTT: You know, that's a question I think a lot of people are asking, a lot of Democrats, certainly environmental groups. And there are some Republicans that have been asking for it too. Some people have been calling for him to step down, though I will say it is a small group of Republicans. You know, at the end of the day, Ari, he's performing for an audience of one here. And today President Trump said again that he thinks Pruitt is doing a great job, although he did qualify it this time, saying, quote, "I'm not saying he's blameless. But we'll see what happens."

SHAPIRO: Well, fact-check that doing a great job for us. On policy, briefly, what's his record?

ROTT: So Trump - I think - does think that Pruitt is doing a good job. And Pruitt, you know, it's absolutely true that he has gone after a number of Obama-era environmental policies that President Trump lambasted during his campaign, everything from the Clean Power Plan, which is Obama's biggest effort to combat climate change, to rules about methane emissions at oil and gas sites. But, you know, if you actually look at a lot of these things, the jury is still out. It's going to take a long time to redo these rules, and just about everything he's doing is being challenged in court.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Nate Rott. Thanks a lot.

ROTT: Yep. Thank you, Ari.

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