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Scott Pruitt’s strategy for dealing with his scandals looks a lot like Trump’s

Never apologize, blame others, berate the media: The EPA’s leader handles controversy much like Trump.

Campaigners hand out fake Chik-fil-A coupons on Capitol Hill on Thursday, mocking EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Campaigners hand out fake Chick-fil-A coupons on Capitol Hill, mocking EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
The Boot Pruitt Campaign
Umair Irfan is a correspondent at Vox writing about climate change, Covid-19, and energy policy. Irfan is also a regular contributor to the radio program Science Friday. Prior to Vox, he was a reporter for ClimateWire at E&E News.

The tomfoolery of Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency’s leader, has reached a new level, somehow.

This week, we learned that he directed an aide, Millan Hupp (who has since resigned), to run personal errands for him last year, including looking into buying a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel, finding housing, and booking vacations.

There are rules against asking federal employees to perform personal tasks, as well as restrictions on employees providing gifts of time or material to their bosses. There are additional rules limiting what you’re allowed to do on government time.

Then on Thursday, the Washington Post reported that Pruitt also sent his 24-hour security detail, which costs $3.5 million, to run errands for him, including driving him to multiple locations to look for a moisturizing lotion offered by Ritz-Carlton hotels, and picking up his dry cleaning, though the time frame wasn’t specified.

We also found out that Pruitt’s scheduler Sydney Hupp (Millan’s sister, who left the EPA last year) used her official email to schedule a phone call between Pruitt and representatives of Chick-fil-A because Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn Pruitt, wanted to open a franchise of the fast-food restaurant chain last year.

The company has a notoriously difficult application process, and opening a Chick-fil-A restaurant is reportedly “harder than getting into Harvard.”

While Pruitt dodged questions about it from Nexstar reporter Jessica Smith on Wednesday, he called Chick-fil-A a “franchise of faith.”

After Hupp announced she was resigning this week, Sarah Greenwalt, senior counsel at the EPA, said she was stepping down too. To wit: These are the same two aides who were slated to receive huge raises under a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act after the White House had already declined to grant the pay bumps.

Greenwalt, who Pruitt described as “a tremendous leader,” said she was excited to go back to Oklahoma, though she said in a statement she would “deeply cherish” her time in the Trump administration.

When Atlantic reporter Elaina Plott contacted the EPA Wednesday to confirm their departures, EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox responded, “You have a great day, you’re a piece of trash.”

That’s all just this week. These new ethics concerns pile on top of Pruitt’s shady dealings with private interests and more than a dozen ongoing investigations. Plus all the evidence he’s grown enamored of the trappings and prestige of government. French dining. First-class flights. Luxury hotels. Bulletproof SUVs. Lunches at the White House mess. A 20-person security detail. Fine writing instruments.

He also wanted to update the EPA’s challenge coin to drop the agency’s logo because, according to the New York Times, he thought “it looked like a marijuana leaf.” And these are arguably ephemeral indiscretions compared to the environmental regulations he’s been dismantling and the favors to industry he’s been handing.

But what’s becoming clearer is that Pruitt’s strategy hews extremely close to the Trump playbook: Never say sorry, blame subordinates, berate and attack the media. So far, that’s seemed to help Pruitt keep his job, since his boss continues to praise him.

As I’ve argued before, Pruitt marches in lockstep with the president on policy, so unless that changes, it’s unlikely that Trump would fire someone who has helped him deliver on campaign promises. Perhaps Trump also sees a little bit of himself in Pruitt, who is combative in the face of all the allegations of impropriety while remaining a steadfast supporter of the president.

Yet we’re also seeing a few small signs that some on the right are growing impatient with Pruitt. Take this tweet from Fox News Research on Wednesday:

Meanwhile, four House Republicans have openly called on Pruitt to resign, and some Senate Republicans are also getting annoyed. House appropriators included a rider in a $35 billion spending bill that would prohibit Pruitt from spending more than $50 on a pen, a response to the revelation that the EPA spent more than $1,500 on pens.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) called him “as swampy as you get” in response to Pruitt’s proposed changes to the renewable fuel standard (renewable fuel = ethanol = corn = Iowa). Politico also reported Thursday that Pruitt wore out his welcome at the White House mess.

There may be more revelations to come. We’re finding out so many details about his early days in office now because Freedom of Information Act requests for the EPA are starting to be fulfilled.

The agency has been dragging its feet on responding to FOIA requests, but as they trickle out, we’ll likely continue to find out more about Pruitt’s taste in the finer things and his way-too-cozy relationship with the industries he’s supposed to regulate.

To quote Pruitt’s former policy chief Samantha Dravis, who reportedly didn’t show up to work for months, “Please kill me.”

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