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Scott Pruitt unapologetically defends EPA tenure amid blistering criticism

Scott Pruitt, the embattled administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, vehemently defended himself while f...

Posted: May 16, 2018 3:14 PM
Updated: May 16, 2018 3:14 PM

Scott Pruitt, the embattled administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, vehemently defended himself while facing tough questions about his spending and alleged ethical transgressions at a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday.

In his opening remarks, Pruitt said there were some decisions during his tenure he would not have made again with the benefit of hindsight, but he also denied some of the allegations against him and said some were exaggeration.

"So I share your concerns about some of these decisions. I want to rectify those going forward," Pruitt said. "I also want to highlight for you that some of the criticism is unfounded and I think is exaggerated and I think it feeds this division that we've seen around very important issues affecting the environment."

While the hearing was billed to be about the agency's budget, lawmakers were primarily focused on the fact that Pruitt's decisions at the head of EPA are the subject of a dozen investigations, reviews and audits from a variety of oversight bodies, including the inspector general, Government Accountability Office and Congress.

Pruitt contradicts EPA security chief email

Among the new development's at Wednesday's hearing is Pruitt contradicting an internal email from his security chief that showed he encouraged the use of lights and sirens for non-emergency situations while traveling in a motorcade. The subcommittee's top Democrat, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, raised the issue of a former special agent who worked on Pruitt's protection team who claimed he was demoted when he refused to drive with lights and sirens blaring through the streets of Washington.

Pruitt replied that the "policies were followed to the best of my knowledge by each of the agents that serve me."

When Udall pressed him again, Pruitt said he does not recall and that policies were followed by his agents "in all instances."

The Democrat senator followed up for a third time: "You personally requested that on a number of trips?" he asked Pruitt.

"No, I don't recall that happening," Pruitt said.

Udall then pointed to an internal email from Pruitt's former security chief that contradicts Pruitt's testimony.

In a February 2017 email released Wednesday by Democratic Sens. Tom Carper and Sheldon Whitehouse, EPA security chief Pasquale "Nino" Perro told others at the agency that Pruitt "encourages the use" of lights and sirens. Perrotta has since resigned.

When grilled about specific incidents -- including an official agency tweet in April mocking Democrats voting against the confirmation of an EPA official -- Pruitt repeatedly refused to apologize.

"The agency should not have done that," he said repeatedly, when asked if he should apologize by Udall.

At the beginning of the hearing, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who chairs the Senate subcommittee, told Pruitt she was concerned that "many of the important policy efforts that you are engaged in are being overshadowed because of a series of issues related to you and your management of the agency."

"Instead of being asked about the work that you're doing ... I'm being asked, really constantly asked, to comment on security, on housing and on travel," she said.

Udall issued some of the harshest criticism of Pruitt, calling his leadership at the EPA "a betrayal of the American people."

"You have used your office to enrich yourself at the expense of the American taxpayer and public health and such abuses have led to several investigations," Udall said.

Pruitt's previous testimony and what's happened since

In his last congressional testimony about three weeks ago, Pruitt was pressed about his unprecedented security detail, travel practices and massive raises given to aides.

At those hearings, Pruitt told lawmakers the $43,000 soundproof booth installed in his office is not rated for classified materials, the explanation he had previously used to defend the purchase. Pruitt also said he had given his chief of staff the authority used to grant two close aides massive raises, contradicting his claim in interviews to have no prior knowledge of the pay boosts. A whistleblower said Pruitt lied about not retaliating against aides who questioned his decisions. And the inspector general said Pruitt misrepresented to Congress a memo he provided them about security concerns.

President Donald Trump expressed his confidence in Pruitt as recently as last week at a meeting with automakers, where Pruitt sat one seat away from Trump.

Since Pruitt's April testimony, more revelations have come out about Pruitt:

  • The EPA Inspector General undercut Pruitt's rationale for his around-the-clock security detail. At Pruitt's request, the enhanced protection begin on his first day in office, the inspector general said, while Pruitt and his aides have pointed to a memo dated six months into his tenure as justifying justification the detail. The protection team is several times larger than the one used by his predecessors and cost taxpayers at least $2 million last year for salaries alone, CNN has calculated.
  • The inspector general told Congress this week it plans to open a new probe that will "review whether Administrator Scott Pruitt is complying with the Federal Records Act and the EPA's Records Management Policy when using multiple email accounts." Records show four accounts were created for Pruitt. His spokesman has said one is used for administrative tasks, such as scheduling, and another was used only briefly.

  • Among Pruitt's guests at a dinner in Italy last year was Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican official who has been charged with sexual abuse. At the time of the dinner, Pell had not been charged but was under investigation. Pell has pleaded "not guilty" for those charges.
  • Internal emails show how EPA officials shielded Pruitt from facing questions from the public and reporters. "My sincere apologies for causing any difficulty but we cannot do open q&a from the crowd," Pruitt's scheduler emailed the host of one event Pruitt would attend.
  • Industry lobbyists helped plan two overseas trips for Pruitt, including a visit to Morocco and another to Australia that was canceled due to hurricanes. "Rick and I will attend and will be present but will not be listed as members of the delegation," wrote one of the lobbyists.
  • CNN uncovered an "executive protection" playbook posted by the security company owned by Pruitt's now-departed security chief. Among the tips from the 2015 post: "Make protection feel like a perk" and "eliminate many of the usual annoyances of travel."
  • Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host, personally arranged a meeting between Pruitt and California water officials. Within a few months, Pruitt announced a groundwater cleanup project in the area would be a priority for the Superfund cleanup program.

Two of Pruitt's toughest critics -- Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, both Democrats -- do not sit on the subcommittee that will question Pruitt this week, but have requested the Republican chairman overseeing their committee bring in Pruitt.

Also not on the subcommittee is Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who on Tuesday cited a biofuel decision when announcing he is considering calling for Pruitt's resignation.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 253932

Reported Deaths: 5524
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17197175
Hinds16280322
Harrison13502193
Rankin10749211
Jackson10407183
Lee8819141
Madison8262162
Jones6375110
Forrest5992119
Lauderdale5873180
Lowndes5381116
Lafayette496692
Lamar487565
Washington4800123
Bolivar3978108
Oktibbeha393880
Panola370779
Pontotoc365353
Monroe3543105
Warren353498
Union344760
Marshall342665
Neshoba3383152
Pearl River329799
Leflore3004105
Lincoln297685
Sunflower284969
Hancock273459
Tate272462
Alcorn264053
Pike263577
Itawamba262959
Scott246645
Yazoo245955
Prentiss245652
Copiah241949
Tippah241750
Simpson235767
Coahoma233754
Leake231164
Grenada218470
Covington213071
Marion212072
Adams205870
Wayne201331
Winston200564
George199338
Attala193759
Newton192842
Tishomingo186359
Chickasaw183944
Jasper170835
Holmes168767
Clay159433
Stone143621
Tallahatchie141034
Clarke138960
Calhoun136121
Smith120823
Yalobusha117034
Walthall112336
Noxubee110522
Greene110229
Montgomery109634
Carroll104521
Lawrence102617
Perry102231
Amite98025
Webster92424
Tunica86721
Claiborne86625
Jefferson Davis84825
Humphreys83024
Benton81823
Kemper77220
Quitman6918
Franklin66615
Choctaw60513
Wilkinson58425
Jefferson54319
Sharkey43017
Issaquena1596
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 424028

Reported Deaths: 6121
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson62258921
Mobile30381549
Madison27160186
Tuscaloosa20779267
Montgomery19049305
Shelby18572114
Baldwin16346182
Lee12515101
Morgan12260113
Etowah11757168
Calhoun11161200
Marshall10199107
Houston8630148
Cullman8036105
Limestone802874
Elmore7849101
DeKalb768897
Lauderdale760083
St. Clair7555120
Talladega6180108
Walker5903174
Jackson581341
Colbert533573
Blount530883
Autauga519855
Coffee443956
Dale398581
Franklin367548
Chilton337665
Russell331710
Covington327768
Escambia319342
Dallas303396
Chambers284269
Clarke282133
Tallapoosa2617107
Pike249429
Marion246250
Lawrence244247
Winston227335
Bibb216247
Geneva202535
Marengo199729
Pickens197031
Hale176442
Barbour173036
Butler170258
Fayette169026
Cherokee160530
Henry154421
Monroe145617
Randolph140735
Washington137726
Clay126745
Crenshaw119544
Lamar118219
Cleburne117723
Macon115035
Lowndes110735
Wilcox103121
Bullock99128
Perry97719
Conecuh94420
Sumter89126
Greene76123
Coosa60515
Choctaw51524
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