Watchdog closes Zinke threat probe, citing lack of cooperation from Interior

The GAO said today it couldn’t issue an opinion on whether Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke violated the law by reportedly threatening an Alaskan senator in a phone call because the agency didn’t cooperate in its probe.

Interior acknowledged Zinke phoned Senate Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) one day after Murkowski voted against the GOP’s legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But it didn’t speak to allegations that Zinke warned of negative consequences to energy and public lands policy in the state due to that vote.

Federal law generally allows "agency officials to voice their position on matters of public policy by direct appeals to Congress," but Interior’s lack of cooperation prevented investigators from determining whether any lines were crossed, according to a letter from Thomas Armstrong, GAO’s general counsel, to the two senior House Democrats who requested the probe last July.

"Interior did not Continue reading “Watchdog closes Zinke threat probe, citing lack of cooperation from Interior”

Allies pushed Pruitt to remove employee, thwart climate report

Conservative allies of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt lobbied last year to remove a career agency staffer in hopes of stopping the release of a government-wide report on the science of climate change, newly released emails show.

The attempt was unsuccessful, even after a member of President Donald Trump’s EPA landing team emailed Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, in June. But the previously unreported effort showed how far some conservatives are willing to go to undermine accepted climate science, even as Pruitt went about dismantling the Obama administration’s biggest climate initiatives and persuaded Trump to withdraw from the 2015 Paris agreement.

The first part of the 13-agency National Climate Assessment did come out as scheduled in November, concluding that human activity is “extremely likely” to be driving climate change. But even then, the White House maintained that the Earth’s climate "has changed and is always changing,” and Pruitt said the Continue reading “Allies pushed Pruitt to remove employee, thwart climate report”

Inhofe ‘a little embarrassed’ to have doubted Pruitt

Sen. Jim Inhofe says he’s confident in Scott Pruitt’s leadership after meeting with the embattled EPA chief Tuesday night — and said he’s “a little embarrassed” to have doubted his long-time friend from Oklahoma.

The Republican senator told reporters Wednesday that any of Pruitt’s lapses were minor and excusable given his lack of experience in Washington, but that many were simply untrue and fueled by critics of his deregulatory agenda.

“I think there are times where he displayed questionable judgment,” Inhofe said of Pruitt, who faces more than a dozen active federal investigations from bodies including the House Oversight Committee, the Office of Management and Budget and the EPA inspector general’s office. “He sure didn’t know anything about Washington when he got here.”

Inhofe also blamed Pruitt’s barrage of allegations of lavish spending, obsessive secrecy and unseemly coziness with industry on critics such as billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and Continue reading “Inhofe ‘a little embarrassed’ to have doubted Pruitt”

Trump: Pruitt has done ‘fantastic job,’ but ‘I’m not happy about certain things’

President Donald Trump offered a mix of praise and frustration for his embattled EPA administrator Friday amid new questions over whether Scott Pruitt misused his office.

“I’m looking at Scott and Scott’s done a fantastic job at EPA, but … I’m not happy about certain things, I’ll be honest,” Trump told reporters during impromptu remarks on the White House lawn Friday morning. “I’m not happy about certain things, but he’s done a fantastic job running the EPA, which is very overriding."

Trump did not specify what about Pruitt was making him unhappy. The administrator is facing at least a dozen investigations over his travel expenses, sweetheart condo deal and allegations that he used EPA aides to conduct personal business for him.

The latest allegation came earlier Friday in a letter from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight Committee: Pruitt asked an aide to contact Continue reading “Trump: Pruitt has done ‘fantastic job,’ but ‘I’m not happy about certain things’”

Major Trump donor helped Pruitt pick EPA science advisers

A prominent GOP donor and President Donald Trump supporter helped EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt choose the head of the influential scientific body charged with reviewing EPA’s regulations, according to newly released documents.

Doug Deason, a Dallas businessman, submitted a list of names of candidates for Pruitt’s Science Advisory Board in August that had been supplied by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, on whose board he serves.

Deason and his father, Darwin Deason, donated over $900,000 in 2016 alone to help elect Trump and other Republican candidates. His influence over the SAB appointments is the latest example of the high-level access that politically powerful conservatives have to the EPA administrator. Deason is known to be a friend of Pruitt’s.

Deason and his wife have also been donors to the Koch brothers’ network of organizations that raise money for Republicans running for state and national office.

Last year, Pruitt overhauled EPA’s Continue reading “Major Trump donor helped Pruitt pick EPA science advisers”

Major Trump donor helped Pruitt pick EPA science advisers

A prominent GOP donor and President Donald Trump supporter helped EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt choose the head of the influential scientific body charged with reviewing EPA’s regulations, according to newly released documents.

Doug Deason, a Dallas businessman, submitted a list of names of candidates for Pruitt’s Science Advisory Board in August that had been supplied by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, on whose board he serves.

Deason and his father, Darwin Deason, donated over $900,000 in 2016 alone to help elect Trump and other Republican candidates. His influence over the SAB appointments is the latest example of the high-level access that politically powerful conservatives have to the EPA administrator. Deason is known to be a friend of Pruitt’s.

Deason and his wife have also been donors to the Koch brothers’ network of organizations that raise money for Republicans running for state and national office.

Last year, Pruitt overhauled EPA’s Continue reading “Major Trump donor helped Pruitt pick EPA science advisers”

Another mess for Pruitt: Overstaying his White House welcome at lunch

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt loves eating at the White House mess, an exclusive U.S. Navy-run restaurant open only to White House officials, Cabinet members and other dignitaries.

But apparently he liked it too much, and the White House asked him to please eat elsewhere sometimes.

In response to Pruitt’s recurring use of the restaurant next to the Situation Room in the basement of the West Wing, a member of the White House’s Cabinet affairs team told agency chiefs of staff in a meeting last year that Cabinet members shouldn’t treat the mess as their personal dining hall, according to three people with knowledge of the issue.

The message was clear, according to one person close to Pruitt: “We love having Mr. Pruitt, but it’s not meant for everyday use.” Another person added that the White House asked Cabinet members to visit the mess only occasionally because there are Continue reading “Another mess for Pruitt: Overstaying his White House welcome at lunch”

Pruitt wanted to buy ‘old mattress’ from Trump International Hotel

Two senior House Oversight Democrats are demanding Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) subpoena Scott Pruitt for documents after one of his closest aides told congressional investigators the EPA administrator had her book a personal flight to the Rose Bowl, search for housing for him and try to buy him an “old mattress” from the Trump International Hotel.

Ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) demanded that Gowdy compel Pruitt to turn over all documents related to the potential mattress purchase, efforts to secure personal flights, and work that agency employees performed on non-EPA tasks for Pruitt that have been withheld from an earlier April Democratic request. That followed a May 18 transcribed interview with Millan Hupp, Pruitt’s scheduler.

“If Ms. Hupp’s statements to the Committee are accurate, Administrator Pruitt crossed a very clear line and must be held accountable,” they wrote. “Federal ethics laws prohibit Continue reading “Pruitt wanted to buy ‘old mattress’ from Trump International Hotel”

House Oversight to interview two close Pruitt aides

The House Oversight Committee plans to interview two members of Scott Pruitt’s inner circle this month as it presses ahead with its investigation into the embattled EPA administrator’s ethics controversies and lavish spending, according to a committee aide.

The committee, which is probing Pruitt’s travel practices and spending on security, has scheduled transcribed interviews in June with Pruitt’s chief of staff Ryan Jackson and his former top policy adviser, Samantha Dravis, according to the aide. Those sessions come on the heels of interviews with Pruitt’s former security chief Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, scheduler Millan Hupp and senior EPA counsel Sarah Greenwalt.

Pruitt has been under scrutiny for weeks because of the steady drip of scandals that have fueled more than a dozen investigations by Congress and EPA’s own watchdog into his first-class flights, unauthorized raises for close aides, sweetheart condo rental from an energy lobbyist and round-the-clock security. But he has Continue reading “House Oversight to interview two close Pruitt aides”

Democrats steal GOP playbook to attack Trump on gas prices

A spike in gasoline prices is giving Democrats a rare chance to borrow an old Republican tactic: pounding the occupant of the White House for motorists’ pain at the pump.

They’re unleashing the message with gusto against President Donald Trump, arguing that his foreign policy moves — including his push to reimpose sanctions on Iran — are to blame for a 50-cent-per-gallon surge in prices since he took office. Democrats also note that gas prices are the highest they’ve been in nearly four years despite the multibillion-dollar windfall that oil companies received from the GOP-backed tax bill.

“There’s a straight line between Trump’s policies and the price of gasoline," Rep. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in a brief interview, echoing a growing chorus of Democrats.

Voters are already feeling spooked: Forty-two percent of Americans won’t take a road trip for summer vacation this year, a much higher percentage of people than Continue reading “Democrats steal GOP playbook to attack Trump on gas prices”

EPA watchdog launches new probe into Pruitt’s email habits

EPA’s inspector general said Tuesday it would look into Scott Pruitt’s use of nonpublic email accounts, bringing the number of federal probes into the EPA administrator’s behavior to an even dozen.

Specifically, the inspector general said it would look into whether Pruitt is properly preserving email records as required under federal law and whether the agency is properly searching all of his accounts in response to public records requests.

Two senior Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Democrats — ranking member Tom Carper (Del.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) — released the letter, dated May 2, confirming the probe.

EPW Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has previously raised concerns about Pruitt’s use of nonpublic email accounts. In response, the agency said it searches all of his accounts when responding to public records requests. Previous EPA administrators also routinely used nonpublic accounts for day-to-day email communications.

The new probe Continue reading “EPA watchdog launches new probe into Pruitt’s email habits”

Trump: ‘I do’ have confidence in Pruitt

President Donald Trump said Friday he continues to have confidence in embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt.

"Yes, I do," Trump replied when asked if he has confidence in Pruitt today, according to a pool report. They were meeting at the White House with auto executives about fuel economy requirements.

Pruitt is facing a dozen active investigations into various allegations of lavish spending and ethical lapses.

The embattled EPA administrator sat one seat away from the president. White House legislative director Marc Short said earlier this week Pruitt would remain in his post for the "foreseeable future."

Pruitt has faced allegations of lavish spending on his 24/7 security detail, questions over his $50-a-night condo agreement with the wife of a Washington lobbyist who met with the EPA chief, accusations he sidestepped the White House to give hefty raises to close aides, concerns over his frequent first-class flights and blowback Continue reading “Trump: ‘I do’ have confidence in Pruitt”

Pruitt fast-tracked California cleanup after Hugh Hewitt brokered meeting

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt placed a polluted California area on his personal priority list of Superfund sites targeted for “immediate and intense” action after conservative radio and television host Hugh Hewitt brokered a meeting between him and lawyers for the water district that was seeking federal help to clean up the polluted Orange County site.

The previously unreported meeting, which was documented in emails released by EPA under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Sierra Club, showed Pruitt’s staff reacting quickly to the request last September by Hewitt, who has been one of Pruitt’s staunchest defenders amid a raft of ethics controversies around his expensive travel, security team spending and a cheap Washington condo rental from a lobbyist.

Pruitt has drawn criticism from environmentalists and other critics for letting prominent GOP backers and industry groups influence the agency’s agenda — even as he has kicked scientists off of Continue reading “Pruitt fast-tracked California cleanup after Hugh Hewitt brokered meeting”

Couple who rented condo to Pruitt pays fine to D.C.

The lobbyist couple whose condo EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt leased for $50 a night paid a $2,034 fine Friday for wrongly renting out the property, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs said.

“The owner agreed to pay the fine for engaging in a business without a housing residential license,” the spokesman told POLITICO.

Pruitt rented the condo for several months last year from Vicki Hart. It emerged in late April that Pruitt had met with her lobbyist husband, Steven Hart, despite his denials, and that Hart had also recommended three people to serve on the agency’s Scientific Advisory Board.

The Harts’ condo arrangement with Pruitt was already rocky. The EPA chief was reportedly slow to pay his rent and the Harts eventually had to change the locks.

More congresssional panels digging through Pruitt records

Scrutiny into Scott Pruitt’s ethics woes intensified Wednesday as a growing group of lawmakers’ staff dug through reams of documents connected to the Environmental Protection Agency administrator’s pricey travel and extensive security team.

Staff of the House Oversight Committee met for several hours with Pruitt’s former security chief, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, who oversaw much of EPA’s spending on perks such as first-class flights, a $43,000 soundproof booth and round-the-clock bodyguards. Democratic staffers took part in the transcribed session and have access to the documents EPA has shared with the committee, a Democratic aide said — a shift from the early days of the probe led by Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).

Staffers declined to comment on the substance of the interview with Perrotta, who has cited personal reasons for resigning from the agency Monday. Sources told POLITICO last month that Perrotta, a former Secret Service agent who worked in Continue reading “More congresssional panels digging through Pruitt records”

California and other states sue EPA over auto emissions rollbacks

California and more than a dozen other states are suing EPA over Administrator Scott Pruitt’s recent decision to roll back greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars.

"My message to the EPA and Administrator Pruitt is simple: Do your job. Regulate carbon pollution from vehicles," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a press conference Tuesday. "We are not looking to pick a fight with the Trump administration, but we are ready for one."

The lawsuit comes just days after sources said the Department of Transportation is planning to propose freezing fuel economy standards at model year 2020 levels. That could pave the way to a lower EPA greenhouse gas standard as well as an effort to block California from enforcing its own more stringent greenhouse gas standards.

"This move by Pruitt with the help and encouragement of Trump is not going to make America great. It’s going to make Continue reading “California and other states sue EPA over auto emissions rollbacks”

Pruitt’s security, Superfund chief leave as probe heats up

The House committee investigating Scott Pruitt’s spending and ethics scandals will interview the head of the embattled EPA administrator’s security team, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, on Wednesday, a committee aide told POLITICO.

The news comes after Perrotta, who ran Pruitt’s unusual, round-the-clock protective detail, told ABC News he had resigned from the agency on Monday.

Separately, EPA confirmed that Pruitt’s top Superfund adviser, Albert “Kell” Kelly, is leaving the agency after attraction controversy over his past, including being banned for life from the banking industry by the FDIC.

Both actions came days after a pair of congressional hearings in which Pruitt blamed his staff, including his security aides, for his massive spending on bodyguards, first-class flights, a $43,000 soundproof phone booth, a biometric door lock and other unheard-of expenses for an EPA leader. Lawmakers also asked Pruitt about Kelly’s background.

"Kell Kelly’s service at EPA will be sorely missed," Pruitt said Continue reading “Pruitt’s security, Superfund chief leave as probe heats up”

Watchdog: EPA broke law building Pruitt’s secure phone booth

A federal watchdog said Monday that EPA broke the law by failing to notify lawmakers that it spent more than $43,000 to build a secure phone booth for Administrator Scott Pruitt in his office.

The report from the Government Accountability Office focuses on the phone booth, which is one of several items that critics have said showed Pruitt was spending excessively for security measures. Other expenditures included expanding the security staff to provide round-the-clock protection for Pruitt, and first-class travel for the administrator and his security personnel to limit his exposure to potential threats from fellow passengers.

Construction of the phone booth violated the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act by spending well above the $5,000 limit that requires the agency to notify Congress, according to the GAO.

"We conclude that EPA violated section 710 when it obligated $43,238.68 for the installation of a soundproof privacy booth without Continue reading “Watchdog: EPA broke law building Pruitt’s secure phone booth”

Gowdy demands more records from EPA’s Pruitt

House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy on Wednesday requested additional documents from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt concerning his first-class travel arrangements and Capitol Hill condo agreement with a Washington lobbyist couple.

While the agency has provided some documents related to Pruitt’s travel arrangements, Gowdy said in a letter that EPA had not provided requested information on waivers the administrator received for first- or business-class tickets.

In addition, Gowdy said records already provided to the agency about the $50-per-night lease in a Capitol Hill condo Pruitt held last year "are insufficient to evaluate compliance with federal ethics rules." He asked for "all documents and communications" related to that lease and associated communications related to whether Pruitt adhered to the terms of that lease.

Gowdy asked for a response no later than April 25.

Mission impossible: Replacing Scott Pruitt

There’s one big reason Senate Republicans are standing staunchly with Scott Pruitt: Confirming a replacement might be impossible.

Even as the embattled EPA administrator faced another day of difficult headlines on Monday, there is no push from the Senate GOP to shove Pruitt out. Instead, Republicans are gently rapping him for his ethical transgressions and praising his deregulatory regime.

There’s no question that GOP senators are growing tired of defending Pruitt. But turning on him would likely backfire, as the shrunken Republican majority would struggle to confirm any EPA administrator, let alone another one as conservative and driven to overturn former President Barack Obama’s environmental rules and regulations.

“I don’t think that would be easy, let me put it that way,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

“I assume it’d be very difficult,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).

Pruitt barely got through the confirmation process last time — opposed by Continue reading “Mission impossible: Replacing Scott Pruitt”