EPA officials sidelined or demoted after raising concerns about Pruitt

Multiple senior officials at the Environmental Protection Agency were sidelined or demoted after they pushed back on ...

Posted: Apr 6, 2018 11:27 AM
Updated: Apr 6, 2018 11:27 AM

Multiple senior officials at the Environmental Protection Agency were sidelined or demoted after they pushed back on or raised concerns about Administrator Scott Pruitt's pricey travel, office spending and management of the agency, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told CNN.

Pruitt's international travel, frequent trips to his home state of Oklahoma and exorbitant office expenditures have drawn concerns from ethics experts and yielded headlines for months, but two sources familiar with the matter said they could have been avoided had Pruitt heeded the advice of multiple EPA officials -- both career officials and political appointees. Instead, the sources said, the officials who disagreed with Pruitt were iced out, reassigned or demoted.

Kevin Chmielewski, who was one of the longest-serving top advance officials on President Donald Trump's campaign, was stripped of his work phone and ID card and placed on administrative leave, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said. He had previously served as a deputy chief of staff for operations.

Two career officials were also pushed aside, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said. John Reeder was moved to American University as an "executive in residence" after clashing with Pruitt. His deputy who succeeded him as acting deputy chief of staff, Reginald Allen, was effectively demoted.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox disputed the allegations and said in a statement: "This is a group of disgruntled employees who have either been dismissed or reassigned."

Chmielewski and Allen declined to comment. Reeder did not respond to requests for comment.

The three officials had raised concerns about Pruitt's spending with him or his top aides. Two sources familiar with the matter said the actions taken against the employees fit a pattern of Pruitt sidelining officials who disagreed with him in favor of surrounding himself with those who would approve of his decisions.

The New York Times first reported on these actions Thursday afternoon.

Some costly items that were considered but faced pushback included a $100,000-a-month air charter membership, a $70,000 bulletproof desk replacement and a refurbished desk that cost more than $2,000.

Other concerns centered on international trips Pruitt took related to official visits but that involved mostly leisure time, including to Italy and Morocco; the first-class travel he sought for some of his top deputies; the frequency of his travel home to Oklahoma; and spending on furnishings for his office, among other issues.

The concerns add to a growing list of ethics issues that have swirled around Pruitt, raising further questions about his future as head of the EPA, where his deregulatory actions have pleased Trump. Top White House officials have grown frustrated with Pruitt, but while White House chief of staff John Kelly advocated for his firing, Trump has so far continued to back Pruitt.

Top officials at the EPA initially demanded Chmielewski's resignation but did not fire him, instead placing him on unpaid administrative leave, an uncertain limbo. He was placed on leave after he returned from a trip to Japan with Vice President Mike Pence, where he filled in as an advance official.

While Pruitt has suggested he has faced criticism for his actions because Democrats are seeking to undermine him, the friction between him and Chmielewski suggests a broader concern. Chmielewski formed a personal bond with Trump during the 2016 campaign as one of his senior advance officials, helping to set up the rallies that drew massive crowds Trump reveled in.

When Trump held a rally in Chmielewski's hometown, he asked him to join him onstage and called him a "star."

In addition, CNN's Rene Marsh has confirmed that Special Agent Eric Weese, who worked on Pruitt's protection team, was demoted when he refused to drive with lights and sirens blaring through the streets of Washington, according to three sources with knowledge of the situation.

Pruitt has come under increasing fire as reports steadily uncover extensive spending on travel and other potentially major ethical lapses, including an agreement to rent a room in Washington for only $50 a night from a lobbyist couple whose firm lobbies the EPA.

Trump on Thursday said he still had confidence in Pruitt, and CNN reported Thursday that as recently as this week, the President floated having Pruitt replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Samantha Dravis, a top aide to Pruitt at the EPA, said earlier Thursday that she was resigning.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 501652

Reported Deaths: 10024
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34353540
DeSoto32162408
Hinds31977631
Jackson24508383
Rankin22015390
Lee15596235
Madison14597280
Jones13867243
Forrest13461252
Lauderdale11998317
Lowndes11065188
Lamar10522136
Pearl River9547237
Lafayette8557140
Hancock7740127
Washington7443160
Oktibbeha7147133
Monroe6787178
Warren6706176
Pontotoc6677104
Neshoba6642206
Panola6542131
Marshall6476135
Bolivar6323150
Union605794
Pike5824152
Alcorn5676102
Lincoln5439135
George497479
Scott473098
Tippah470381
Prentiss469182
Leflore4663144
Itawamba4640105
Adams4592119
Tate4592111
Copiah448792
Simpson4448116
Yazoo444887
Wayne440072
Covington429094
Sunflower4240105
Marion4232108
Coahoma4168107
Leake408688
Newton381779
Grenada3711108
Stone360664
Tishomingo360092
Attala331789
Jasper330165
Winston314691
Clay308977
Chickasaw301067
Clarke292594
Calhoun279447
Holmes267987
Smith264150
Yalobusha234547
Tallahatchie228251
Greene219449
Walthall218764
Lawrence213140
Perry205956
Amite205256
Webster203046
Noxubee186840
Montgomery179657
Jefferson Davis172243
Carroll169338
Tunica160039
Benton149239
Kemper141941
Choctaw133326
Claiborne132837
Humphreys129638
Franklin120328
Quitman106528
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94734
Sharkey64220
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 820312

Reported Deaths: 15407
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1148731924
Mobile726221339
Madison52362697
Shelby37640350
Baldwin37266552
Tuscaloosa35120612
Montgomery34123740
Lee23540246
Calhoun22236488
Morgan20958378
Etowah19838500
Marshall18381304
Houston17394412
St. Clair16078339
Cullman15468293
Limestone15354199
Elmore15271286
Lauderdale14323295
Talladega13851283
DeKalb12664261
Walker11221370
Blount10207176
Autauga10048148
Jackson9877184
Coffee9211191
Dale8904185
Colbert8877201
Tallapoosa7093198
Escambia6778134
Covington6715183
Chilton6648162
Russell637559
Franklin5969105
Chambers5612142
Marion5010127
Dallas4979200
Pike4796106
Clarke475884
Geneva4575127
Winston4522103
Lawrence4327117
Bibb425386
Barbour357876
Marengo338390
Monroe331664
Randolph329864
Butler326796
Pickens316584
Henry312866
Hale311688
Cherokee302960
Fayette294180
Washington251651
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245375
Clay243368
Macon234863
Lamar224847
Conecuh186353
Coosa180340
Lowndes175464
Wilcox168939
Bullock151744
Perry138940
Sumter133238
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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