Our view: There appear to be no limits, ethical or other, imposed on the EPA’s scandal-prone administrator
Early in 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump boasted at a campaign rally in Iowa that he was so popular that he could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and [he] wouldn't lose voters.” The point was not to demonstrate how cruel he can be (although, in retrospect, one has to wonder if that wasn’t a secondary message) but to explain how loyal his followers were. They would forgive him anything, even a casual murder on a crowded New York City street.
Thirty months later, it’s become clear that Mr. Trump isn’t the only one holding a “Get Out of Jail Free” card or at least wearing a Teflon suit. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt seems destined to set some kind of record for scandalous behavior without consequence. Rarely, if ever, has a cabinet member behaved so badly with so little rebuke.
The latest offense — if you can call anything the EPA chief does an “offense” when there’s nothing offered in the way of “accountability” — came to light this week when it was reported, first by The Washington Post, that Mr. Pruitt had asked his subordinates to secure a job paying $200,000 or more for his wife within the Republican Attorneys General Association. Aha, “fake news,” President Trump’s supporters may respond, but the information actually came by way of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and they got it by interviewing two members of Mr. Pruitt’s own staff. That’s not exactly some fly-by-night, anti-Republican cabal.
Of course, that’s not the only questionable thing those aides — or others — were asked to do by their boss. Readers may recall the lobbyist-owned condo that the Pruitts rented for all of $50 per night. When that situation went sour, Administrator Pruitt allegedly had aides examine the rental agreement to find ways to break it. They also helped him book his trips in first-class, which is not the customary mode for taxpayer-financed government travel, even for presidential favorites. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Remember these?
- The $43,000 soundproof booth installed in the administrator’s office, a violation of government rules that required broader review of such a costly purchase.
- Large raises to top aides that were expressly forbidden by the White House.
- Travel bookings by private plane and military jet at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars as well as excessive security costs (as much as $30,000 on a trip to Italy) that Mr. Pruitt has lamely tried to justify by complaining about partisan politics and a “toxic environment” that apparently only exists in coach.
- A disturbing pattern of secrecy that seeks to avoid written records of meetings and decisions, including the administrator allegedly maintaining multiple email accounts.
The Hatch Act, ethics rules, federal guidelines for official conduct, all have seemingly been ignored by a cavalier appointee whose comfort and convenience appear to be his guiding principle (if “principle” is in any way an appropriate word to associate with such blatant misconduct). It’s certainly not been the protection of the environment. Mr. Pruitt has easily been the worst EPA head in the agency’s 48-year history. But at least his efforts to dismantle environmental protections, misguided as they are, have been approved by his president. There’s been no evidence presented to date that Mr. Pruitt’s personal indulgences have Mr. Trump’s blessings. It appears more likely that the president is choosing to ignore them.
Of course, there are now investigations in Congress and at the agency level, but what of them? Enough has come out already to embarrass anyone else into resignation. Not Scott Pruitt. A presidential firing was justified months ago. Not as Donald Trump sees it. Surely, some other fellow could be trusted to set back the causes of clean air and water or worsen climate change in the name of the failing coal industry without near-weekly ethics violations coming to light.
There are any number of theories. Maybe Mr. Trump’s obvious affection for chaos and headlines is actually served by EPA scandals. Perhaps the president just likes Mr. Pruitt. Or Mr. Trump may just enjoy watching his promise to “drain the swamp” be proven as hollow and meaningless as the phrase “environmental protection” has become under its current administrator.
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