And it comes as he faces increasing scrutiny over his spending and management, as well as over his unusual residential rental arrangement last year with a longtime lobbyist. Even some Republican lawmakers have called for Pruitt’s ouster in recent days, although President Trump has joined many conservatives and industry representatives in standing by the EPA chief.
The president voiced additional support Saturday night, with an all-encompassing tweet that ended, “Scott is doing a great job!”
Travel schedules and agency correspondence obtained by The Washington Post show that Pruitt’s detail, which is triple the size of those for prior EPA administrators, has stretched the agency’s resources and required regular overtime for the men and women who guard him.
In the early months of Pruitt’s tenure, that round-the-clock security arrangement prompted officials to bring in, on rotation, special agents from across the country who otherwise would have been investigating environmental crimes; they were assigned to two-week stints helping to protect Pruitt. His detail now comprises at least 18 full-time agents who provide coverage for him whether he is on official business or off duty. The AP reported that given Pruitt’s busy travel schedule and frequent trips home to Oklahoma, many agents racked up so much overtime that they hit annual salary caps of about $160,000.
Pruitt is among the most high-profile Cabinet members and one of the most polarizing. In justifying his constant security, EPA officials have said Pruitt has received far more threats than previous administrators — some of them “very personal, ugly threats,” an assistant inspector general told The Post last year.
Another agency official told The Post in February that verbal confrontations with members of the public prompted Pruitt to begin flying first-class last year so there would be a buffer between him and the public, as recommended by the leader of the security detail, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta.
“Scott Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him and his family,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement when asked about Pruitt’s security costs. “Americans should all agree that members of the President’s cabinet should be kept safe from these violent threats.”
In several emails obtained by The Post, EPA security officials made clear last year that the administrator’s extensive travel schedule put a strain on resources before the agency hired additional officers. In a June 9 email to the team, one special agent described the work that went into guarding Pruitt during a trip to Italy.
“I have done enough of these over the years to understand that it takes a lot of effort by those involved to make it look seamless and easy. It is exhausting — stress, jet lag and long days — and continued cooperative efforts between staff, security, embassy personnel and foreign police,” he wrote. “And unfortunately there will be little rest for the weary as the team will start right back to work here in D.C. on Monday.”
Noting that a set of agents usually assigned to doing criminal investigations had just finished a two-week assignment in Washington and were about to be replaced with a new group, the agent wrote, “The detail will jump right into a week of events here in Washington D.C. to end on Friday with yet another trip to Tulsa for the weekend.”
By late 2017, the security detail had hired enough agents that the EPA no longer had to routinely bring in agency investigators from elsewhere in the country.
Yet on Dec. 22, in an email to Pruitt’s detail about the upcoming week’s schedule, another agent highlighted the 12-hour shifts necessary to guard the EPA head over the holidays. Numerous agents were deployed as he spent Christmas in Oklahoma, attended a University of Kentucky basketball game and flew with his family to California to attend the Rose Bowl football game and spend time at Disneyland.
While Pruitt has retained the public support of Trump, some top White House aides have recommended that he be dismissed, given the mounting reports about his ethics and management decisions. Even some political allies have wondered whether he should remain.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, suggested Friday that Pruitt would not hold his job much longer.
During a book-signing event at First Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C., Gowdy was asked about the administrator’s latest troubles, which include big pay raises given to two top aides. Gowdy’s remarks, captured by an attendee shooting video on a cellphone, were posted online by the environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth.
The lawmaker first said his committee had seen, but not yet received, documents requested of EPA. “I’m not sure he’s gonna make it that long,” Gowdy said of Pruitt. Shaking his head, he said, “I don’t have a lot patience for that kind of stuff.” A government official has “got to be a good steward” of taxpayer resources, he added.