5 july 2018

Scott Pruitt resigns: Trump's scandal-ridden EPA chief steps down

Donald Trump announces Pruitt’s departure on Twitter and praises him for doing an ‘outstanding job

Oliver Milman in New York and Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington, The Guardian, July 5, 2018

Scott Pruitt, the hugely controversial administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has resigned.

Donald Trump announced Pruitt’s departure on Twitter and said Pruitt had done an “outstanding job”. He further posted that Pruitt’s deputy Andrew Wheeler would take over as acting administrator from Monday.

Trump added: “I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!”

Trump had repeatedly defended Pruitt following a multitude of ethics scandals.

Pruitt, a former attorney general of Oklahoma, had come under increasing pressure over issues including the use of public funds for travel and office improvements; for using an obscure provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act to give pay raises to two aides; and for having paid $50 a night to rent a room in a Capitol Hill townhouse from the wife of an energy industry lobbyist.

An EPA ethics official who initially said the condo deal was not inappropriate subsequently rowed back on that claim.

In April, Reuters cited an anonymous Republican aide who said the condo deal was being examined by the House oversight committee. The Associated Press detailed extensive spending on a “a 20-member full-time security detail” for Pruitt.

In recent weeks, the barrage of headlines over Pruitt’s alleged impropriety at the EPA escalated – prompting several staff members to resign.

A whistleblower revealed earlier this week that Pruitt kept a secret calendar to hide meetings with industry representatives. Staffers reportedly met in Pruitt’s office to alter or remove records of the meetings. It also emerged that Pruitt asked staffers to use their personal credit cards for his hotel bookings.

As of last month, Pruitt’s activities were the result of at least 14 separate federal investigations.

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog, reacted to Pruitt’s resignation with a one-word statement reading: “Good.”

Even some Republicans, who had grown tired of defending Pruitt’s daily controversies, celebrated the news of his departure.

“Finally. Actually he did a horrible job,” Carlos Curbelo, a moderate Republican congressman from Florida, tweeted in response to Trump.

“He was a disaster and an embarrassment from day one, and the country is far better off without him.”

It was reported in April that the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, had urged Pruitt’s firing but was rebuffed by the president.

Trump had remained behind Pruitt. He recently told reporters on Air Force One that Pruitt was “a good man, he’s done a terrific job”. But the president added that he would “take a look” at the situation. At a subsequent White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Sanders said Pruitt’s actions were “under review”.

Pruitt, who reportedly hoped to replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general if that job became vacant, described Washington as “toxic” and said opponents of his deregulatory agency would “resort to anything” to halt his progress.

He was an aggressive champion of Trump’s anti-regulation agenda, repealing a host of environmental protection measures, many implemented by the Obama administration.

“You know, I just left coal and energy country,” Trump said after a recent trip to West Virginia. “They feel very strongly about Scott Pruitt. And they love Scott Pruitt.”

Speaking to the Guardian before Pruitt resigned, a senior EPA official who asked not to be named said of agency management: “People are so done with these folks. We wanted and waited for some adults to show up. But the relentless tide of bullshit from Pruitt and his cronies is tough to deal with.”

Janet McCabe, a former EPA assistant administrator, said: “I think morale at the EPA is at a very low ebb. The bigger concern is the environmental mission of the agency. Substantively, what has happened in the last year is a big a threat as the agency has ever faced.”

Trump’s first health secretary, Tom Price, and former veterans affairs secretary David Shulkin also lost their jobs over ethics scandals involving the spending of public money. The housing and urban development secretary, Ben Carson, and the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have faced similar controversies.

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