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NY Times, July 5, 2018
Scott Pruitt, Trump’s E.P.A. Chief, Resigns Under Cloud of Ethics Scandals
By Coral Davenport
WASHINGTON — Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s embattled administrator of
the Environmental Protection Agency, has resigned after facing months of
allegations over legal and ethical violations.
Mr. Trump announced the resignation on Thursday in a tweet, saying
Mr. Pruitt had been hailed as a hero among conservatives for his zealous
deregulation, but he could not overcome the stain of numerous ethics
questions about his alleged spending abuses, first-class travel and cozy
relationships with lobbyists.
Mr. Pruitt also came under fire for enlisting aides to obtain special
favors for him and his family, such as reaching out to the chief
executive of Chick-fil-A, Dan T. Cathy, with the intent of helping Mr.
Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn, open franchise of the restaurant.
Mr. Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who built his career on
lawsuits against the agency he would eventually lead, remained a
favorite of Mr. Trump’s for the majority of his tenure at the E.P.A. He
began the largest regulatory rollback in the agency’s history, undoing,
delaying or blocking several Obama-era environmental rules. Among them
was a suite of historic regulations aimed at mitigating global warming
pollution from the United States’ vehicles and power plants.
Mr. Pruitt also played a lead role in urging Mr. Trump to follow through
on his campaign pledge to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris
climate agreement, despite warnings from some of the president’s other
senior advisers that the move could damage the United States’
credibility in foreign policy. Under the landmark accord, nearly every
country had committed to reducing emissions of planet-warming fossil
The E.P.A.’s deputy administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal
lobbyist who shares Mr. Pruitt’s zeal to dismantle climate change
regulations, will act as the agency’s leader until a new administrator
is nominated by Mr. Trump and confirmed by the Senate.
In 2017, Mr. Pruitt made headlines for questioning the established
science of human-caused climate change, contradicting decades of
research by scientific institutions, including his own agency. Although
Mr. Pruitt was harshly criticized for the remarks, they did not affect
his good standing with a president who has also mocked climate science.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly told associates that Mr. Pruitt has done what
he has wanted in terms of cutting regulations, so he has been reluctant
to let him go. Mr. Pruitt has made himself available to the president as
a confidante as well as a possible next attorney general.
But White House advisers for months have implored Mr. Trump to get rid
of Mr. Pruitt, including his chief of staff, John F. Kelly. Ultimately,
the president grew disillusioned with Mr. Pruitt after a cascade of
accusations of impropriety and ethical missteps overshadowed Mr.
Pruitt’s policy achievements.
In recent days, people who have spoken with Mr. Trump said he sounds
exasperated with his EPA administrator’s negative headlines. “It’s one
thing after another with this guy,” one person close to Mr. Trunp quoted
the president as saying.
Mr. Pruitt is the subject of at least 13 federal investigations, and a
government watchdog agency concluded that he had broken the law with his
purchase of a $43,000 secure telephone booth. He was also under
investigation for his 2017 lease of a bedroom in a condominium linked to
a Canadian energy company’s powerful Washington lobbying firm, and for
accusations that he demoted or sidelined E.P.A. employees who questioned
The former E.P.A. administrator had come under criticism for lavish
expenditures on foreign travel, including a trip arranged for him by a
lobbyist to Morocco, a country where the E.P.A. has no policy agenda.
His domestic travel also came under fire after a former staff member
told congressional investigators that his boss often sought to travel to
Oklahoma, where Mr. Pruitt owns a home, directing his employees to “find
me something to do” there so he could justify charging taxpayers for the
A New York Times report detailed Mr. Pruitt’s lavish spending and
questionable practices in his home state.
While Democrats have criticized Mr. Pruitt since his nomination, in
recent months even conservative Republicans had taken the unusual step
of criticizing and questioning his ethics. Representative Trey Gowdy,
Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the House Oversight
Committee, has started an investigation into Mr. Pruitt’s actions at the
E.P.A., the first such Republican-led inquiry into a Trump
administration cabinet member.
On May 2, Mr. Gowdy’s staff began conducting transcribed,
behind-closed-doors interviews with Mr. Pruitt’s closest aides. Partial
transcripts from one of those interviews revealed that Mr. Pruitt used
one of his top aides last year essentially as a personal assistant,
having her help him search for an apartment as well as try to procure a
used mattress from the Trump International Hotel.
In addition, Mr. Pruitt faced irritation from the White House after The
Atlantic magazine reported that Mr. Pruitt’s office gave raises to two
aides, even though the White House had declined to approve the raises.
The E.P.A. has denied any wrongdoing on Mr. Pruitt’s behalf. But in May,
several members of his senior staff resigned, and many more top
employees are said to be considering leaving.
It remains unclear how well some aspects of Mr. Pruitt’s regulatory
rollback agenda, and his effort to undo the environmental work of his
predecessors, will stand the test of time. In his haste to cripple
government regulation and publicize his success, Mr. Pruitt and his
officials have failed to follow important procedures, and courts have
already struck down at least six of his rollback efforts.
His removal will deal a blow to his political aspirations. People close
to Mr. Pruitt have said that he had been using his prominence in the
Trump administration to position himself for a run for state office in
Oklahoma. His sights, some said, were set on a possible presidential run
Instead, Mr. Pruitt is now the latest in Mr. Trump’s purge of top
Emily Cochrane and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.
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