Fresh accusations from Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff paint him in a very, very bad light.
arlier this month, in the wake of revelations about his pricey travel habits and sweetheart deal on rent courtesy of a high-powered lobbyist, Scott Pruitt sat down with a series of reporters to clear the air and explain what was happening. The negative headlines and stories painting him as one of the most corrupt Cabinet members in the Trump administration were the result of one thing and one thing only, he said: a liberal plot against him. The real issue, Pruitt and his defenders insist, is not his preference for flying first class when coach would suffice, or the $50 a night he was shelling out for part of a D.C. townhouse in a neighborhood where the market rate was several multiples of that, but that the left simply doesn’t appreciate his hydrocarbon-happy dismantling of Barack Obama’s regulatory regime. Which makes fresh accusations against Pruitt, by one of Donald Trump’s favorite staffers, somewhat awkward!
In a six-page letter addressed to Pruitt but circulated much more widely than his pair of very fancy desks, two senators and three House representatives detailed allegations that were brought to their attention this week by Kevin Chmielewski, who served as the president’s body man during the campaign—Trump called him a “star” and a “gem”—before going on to work as the E.P.A.’s deputy chief of staff. (Chmielewski was placed on administrative leave without pay after objecting to Pruitt’s spending policies, which can be loosely summed up as: F–k you, I do what I want.) Among the most damning allegations:
- Pruitt demanded the agency “enter into a $100,000 per month contract to rent a private jet, which would have cost more than the administrator’s annual travel budget of approximately $450,000,” a situation Chmielewski says he prevented from happening, probably to the detriment of his employment;
- Pruitt made travel decisions based on his “desire to visit particular cities or countries rather than official business” and then told staff to “‘find me something to do [in those locations]’ to justify the use of taxpayer funds,” which might explain his trip to Morocco to promote U.S. natural gas exports, despite the fact that said exports are not part of the E.P.A.’s mission to “protect human health and the environment”;
- Pruitt booked his flights through Delta, despite the airline not being the federal government’s contract carrier for the route, “because [he] want[ed] to accrue more frequent flier miles,” just in case his private jet didn’t pan out;
- Pruitt directed his staff to “find reasons for [him] to travel to Oklahoma, so [he] could be in his home state for long weekends at taxpayers’ expense,” where he has seemingly been laying the groundwork for a run for office;
- Pruitt stayed in hotels that far exceeded the U.S. government per diem, sometimes by 300 percent. Exhibit A: when he traveled to Australia and Italy and refused to stay in hotels recommended by the U.S. Embassy, choosing fancier but less secure ones, which you think would concern someone who wanted a bullet-proof desk;
- Pruitt blew through the $5,000 limit allowed by law to redecorate his office with items that included a $43,000 soundproof phone booth, art leased from the Smithsonian Institution, and a desk (one of two) that alone cost $2,075;
- Pruitt insisted, as previously reported, on “the use of lights and sirens to transport [him] more quickly through traffic to the airport, meetings, and social events on numerous occasions” and required his drivers to “speed through residential neighborhoods and red lights, far in excess of posted speed limits,” because Scott Pruitt’s got places to be, people!
- Pruitt insisted the E.P.A.’s director of scheduling “act as his personal real estate representative, spending weeks improperly using federal government resources and time to contact rental and seller’s agents, and touring numerous properties in which [he] might wish to reside”;
- Pruitt gave two favored aides giant salaries after they were denied by the White House (which Pruitt claimed in recent interviews to not know anything about);
- And that Pruitt did not even pay the $50 per night he owed lobbyist J. Steven Hart, who complained during a phone call Chmielewski heard on speakerphone that Pruitt “had never paid any rent to him” and that Pruitt’s daughter “had damaged his hardwood floors by repeatedly rolling her luggage across the unit when she was staying there.”
According to the letter, Chmielewski’s employment with the E.P.A. ultimately ended thanks to his refusal to “retroactively approve [a favored staffer’s] first-class return flight from Morocco.” That Chmielewski, contends, caused Pruitt to remove him from his post. But naturally Pruitt did not do the dirty work himself, allegedly relying instead on the head of his security detail, Nino Perrotta, who Chmielewski says threatened him in such a way that he reported it to the local police, E.P.A. officials, and the White House Office of Presidential Personnel. (Speaking of Perrotta, i.e. the guy who deemed it too risky for Pruitt to sit in coach, we highly suggest checking out his self-published memoir, Dual Mission, which includes lines like, “I cannot tell how many women in those days held [my] gun during very passionate late-night moments. It was, in some ways, like a dangerous, forbidden sex toy to some, and I played right along. Although never loaded, I am certain to have broken a rule or two in terms of allowing unauthorized access to and use of a federal firearm.”)
While the lawmakers concluded that the information left them “certain that [Pruitt’s] leadership at E.P.A. has been fraught with numerous and repeated unethical and potentially illegal actions on a wide range of consequential matters,” it’s not clear that Trump will have him removed. On the one hand, the guy is on a roll when it comes to firing people. On the other, Pruitt has done such a stellar job dismantling Obama’s environmental legacy in his short time on the job, and good work is truly hard to find. While Trump has said nothing about the matter on social media, during a speech today ostensibly about tax reform, he told the crowd that that he plans to sign a “presidential memorandum directing the E.P.A to cut” even more regulations on manufacturers.
For their part, Pruitt’s handlers appear to be on the offensive: just hours after the letter detailing the E.P.A. head’s ethically challenged habits was released, word leaked that Chmielewski “never filed required financial disclosure forms during his year in the Trump administration.” That, combined with Pruitt’s stellar work turning the environment into an ashtray, should help him hang on little while longer.