EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made withering comments about President Donald Trump in a 2016 interview with a Tulsa radio station, according to audio of the broadcast published Tuesday.
“I believe Donald Trump in the White House would be more abusive to the Constitution than Barack Obama — and that’s saying a lot,” Pruitt said on the Pat Campbell Show. “I really believe he would use a blunt instrument. This president at least tries to nuance his unlawfulness.”
Pruitt went on to tell the host, “We don’t need to replace [President Obama] with another individual — as you said, our bully — in the White House, to do what he’s done from the Republican side of things.”
The audio surfaced courtesy of Nick Surgey, co-director of Documented, a watchdog group. Surgey published it Tuesday morning just as Pruitt began to testify at an oversight hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Since his confirmation as head of the EPA on February 17, Pruitt has eagerly availed his role in the Trump administration, becoming one of the most industrious Cabinet officials and delivering regulatory repeals and slowdowns for his allies in the fossil fuels sector. Toward Trump himself, Pruitt has been effusive, calling the Trump’s announcement to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord “courageous.”
Pruitt seems to have been avoiding Tuesday’s Senate hearing for months. And Democratic lawmakers have been awaiting their chance to grill him on the rollbacks and delays of environmental enforcement at the EPA on his watch.
But as word of the leaked audio got around, committee member Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) took the opportunity to ask Pruitt if he remembered the disparaging comments about Trump.
“I don’t, senator,” Pruitt said. “And I don’t echo that today at all.”
But the audio was discovered by Surgey as he listened to interviews while investigating Pruitt’s record.
“I was trying to better understand Pruitt’s history of espousing climate change denial, and get a better handle on his repeated attacks on the EPA while he was attorney general in Oklahoma,” Surgey told me in an email. “It is important that people know that one of the ‘stars’ of this administration had such serious concerns about threats to the constitution by President Trump.”
For the remainder of the hearing, committee Republicans like Chair Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) praised Pruitt for his work to end the “regulatory rampage” at the EPA under the Obama administration while Democrats questioned Pruitt’s budget cuts for the agency, slowwalking rules, regulatory rollbacks, and his international trips.
Pruitt isn’t the only Cabinet official who had a dim view of Trump before the election. Energy Secretary Rick Perry in 2015 called Trump a “cancer on conservatism.”