It’s been quite a week of evasion, history rewriting and outright lying where the Trump administration is concerned, from the latest explanation of how Stephanie Clifford — a.k.a. Stormy Daniels — got paid off (it’s now on President Donald Trump’s financial disclosure report) to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Russian meddling (yes, it happened at Vladimir Putin’s urging, and, yes, it was an effort to elect Mr. Trump) and its repudiation of the see-no-evil-unless-it’s-Hillary-Clinton House GOP version. Yet one prevaricator stands out above all others.
That man is Scott Pruitt, administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, denier of climate change, skeptic of science that is unsupportive of his world view, owner of the $43,000 taxpayer-financed phone booth, firefighter at heart (more about that in a moment) and recent beneficiary of a legal defense fund. Small wonder Mr. Pruitt is unable to spot the deleterious effects of greenhouse gases to the climate. He appears physically unable to differentiate between reality and alternative facts as well.
We need only point to a remarkable exchange that took place this week between Mr. Pruitt and New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall over what should have been a fairly straightforward matter — the administrator’s fondness for cutting through traffic jams by having his protective detail use their lights and sirens that are supposed to be reserved for emergencies. “There are policies in place that govern lights. Those policies were followed to the best of my knowledge by each of the agents who serve me,” Mr. Pruitt replied. Senator Udall’s surprised reaction? “OK. Here we go.”
What followed next was a reminder from Mr. Udall that Mr. Pruitt had personally requested lights and sirens on a number of trips. Mr. Pruitt denied it. (“I don’t recall that,” he said). Next came an email from Pasquale Perotta, Mr. Pruitt’s former security chief, reminding staff that Mr. Pruitt “encourages the use” of lights and sirens. (One may recall Mr. Perotta as the individual who claimed that Mr. Pruitt needed to travel by first class for security reasons despite the fact that most Americans wouldn’t recognize the administrator if he personally poisoned their well, as opposed to merely allowing polluters to do so.) Nor should this have been revelatory. The New York Times had already documented the administrator’s fondness for using lights and sirens to beat traffic. So why did Mr. Pruitt not hesitate to, as Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen observed, dig himself “an even bigger hole?”
Let’s postulate a theory. Mr. Pruitt doesn’t care what the members of the Senate Appropriations environmental subcommittee think. Tell them the truth or lie, it’s all the same. The only thing that’s in Mr. Pruitt’s mind — aside from taking advantage of his office to live large or please his energy industry allies — is to make President Trump happy by unspooling environmental protections at a dizzying pace. Oh, and perhaps getting praised by Sean Hannity, Trump bestie, during one of their regular calls. By any reasonable standard, the EPA administrator is the biggest screw-up, and we mean that in the nicest possible way, of the Trump cabinet. In a group that includes HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who is currently in the process of dismantling rules meant to reduce racial segregation while simultaneously tripling poor people’s rent, that’s saying something. But he isn’t going anywhere. Doubtless he plans to “not recall” himself through any future congressional testimony just the same.
Lying has little to no consequence to the Trump inner circle. Through his own behavior, the president has made that crystal clear. It was no less sage a presence than the soon-to-be-forgotten Rex W. Tillerson, himself once a Trump inner circle dweller and now an outie, who observed that all this lying isn’t doing the country any good whatsoever. “If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom,” Mr. Tillerson told the graduating class of the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., on Wednesday. The former secretary of state did not name Mr. Trump as the culprit nor did he finally explain whether he once called the president an expletive-ing moron, but he’s definitely on to something, belatedly.