EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has tapped a white-collar defense lawyer to advise him as he grapples with a dozen federal investigations into his activity, according to two people familiar with the situation.
Paul Rauser, the co-founder of the firm Aegis Law Group, has been assisting Pruitt for several weeks as the EPA chief faces fierce scrutiny on everything from his international travel and his lavish spending to his $50-per-night lease in a Capitol Hill condo owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, these people said. Rauser has recently been spotted at EPA headquarters, according to the people.
Rauser “focuses on domestic and international white-collar criminal defense, corporate internal investigations, and high-stakes commercial litigation and arbitration,” according to Aegis’ website. He has advised clients on lobbying and campaign finance issues, in addition to representing companies and individuals facing investigations by Congress and the executive branch, the firm’s website says.
Neither nor an EPA spokesman responded to a request for comment.
Pruitt has lost the confidence of many White House staffers, who along with some outside advisers to the president have begun privately expressing frustration that Trump hasn’t fired his EPA chief amid the cascade of scandals, according to four current or former White House officials and advisers.
“He’s somehow managed to hang on,” said one former White House official. “It’s amazing.”
But Trump is not yet ready to push Pruitt out, according to two of the officials, even though he is beginning to sour on him.
“The president has grown weary, but he hasn’t yet gotten to the point that he wants to fire him,” the former White House official said. “But the president is no longer going to step into the breach and defend him.”
For now, Trump is more focused on other issues, including trade negotiations with China and his possible summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. But he is aware of — and unhappy with – the string of damaging stories about Pruitt, according to White House aides.
One recent story in particular got the president’s attention: a report that conservative radio and television host Hugh Hewitt brokered a meeting with Pruitt to push for the cleanup of a polluted site in California. The story reignited Trump’s lingering frustrations with Hewitt, who he believes was unfairly critical of him during the presidential campaign, according to a Republican close to the White House.
White House aides had hoped that Pruitt would be able to get out ahead of the non-stop stream of negative news stories about him. But Pruitt’s seeming inability to stop the bleeding has infuriated many in the West Wing, who are sick of having to answer questions about his behavior.
“There’s this slow erosion of confidence that he’ll be able to handle this stuff in any meaningful way,” said a White House official. “‘Where does this end?’ is a pretty fair question.”
Two White House aides said they believe Pruitt could be fired if a series of pending investigations reveal new damaging information about the EPA chief.
For now though, Pruitt is in limbo. “He’s in that dead man zone that Rex Tillerson was in,” said a Republican close to the White House, referring to Tillerson’s months-long slow-motion demise.
Pruitt told lawmakers during a Senate hearing on Wednesday that he has established a legal defense fund, adding that donations to the fund will be made public and he would not solicit contributions from lobbyists or corporations with business before the agency.
Another lawyer working with Pruitt, Foley and Lardner partner Cleta Mitchell, helped set up the fund, according to a person familiar with the issue. The Washington Post first reported Mitchell’s involvement in the fund.
Mitchell, in an email, confirmed that Pruitt is her client, but declined to comment further. “Scott has been a friend and client for a number of years – we are both from Oklahoma,” she said.
Nancy Cook contributed to this story.