The account manager at the Tiny Jewel Box, which calls itself Washington’s “premier destination for fine jewelry and watches,” had promised to expedite the order of a dozen customized silver fountain pens — each emblazoned with the seal of the Environmental Protection Agency and the signature of its leader, Scott Pruitt.
Now all that the EPA staff member working with the store needed was for a top Pruitt aide to sign off on the $3,230 order, which also included personalized journals.
“The cost of the Qty. 12 Fountain Pens will be around $1,560.00,” the staffer emailed Aug. 14 to Millan Hupp, Pruitt’s head of scheduling and advance and a trusted confidante dating to his Oklahoma days. “All the other items total cost is around $1,670.00 which these items are in process. Please advise.”
“Yes, please order,” Hupp responded later that day. “Thank you.”
The exchange, included among thousands of pages of emails released this week as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Sierra Club, offered another glimpse of the high-end tastes of the EPA chief, who has faced months of scrutiny over his expenditures of taxpayer money on first-class travel, an unprecedented security detail, a $43,000 phone booth, a top-of-the-line SUV and other office upgrades.
In recent weeks, Pruitt has blamed some of those questionable expenditures on the agency’s rank and file, arguing that he often played no role in the decision to spend large sums of money.
“Some of the things that have been in the media are decisions made by career staff — processes that were at the agency that there weren’t proper checks and balances,” Pruitt told the Washington Free Beacon in an interview this week. He said he had recently instituted changes, including requiring that any expense over $5,000 related to his duties must be approved by several top agency officials. “I’m having to answer questions about decisions that others made. And that’s not an excuse, it’s just reality.”
But the exchange last summer regarding the order of fountain pens — each of which cost taxpayers $130 — shows that while Pruitt himself might not have been privy to the minutiae of such decisions, top aides rather than career staffers often were the ones signing off on them.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox defended the purchases, saying in a statement Friday morning that they “were made for the purpose of serving as gifts to the Administrator’s foreign counterparts and dignitaries upon his meeting with them. This adheres to the same protocol of former EPA Administrators and were purchased using funds budgeted for such a purpose.”
The New York Times reported this spring that Pruitt asked the agency for fountain pens, stationery and leather-bound notebooks “from which he wanted to omit the E.P.A. seal and upon which he wanted to feature his name prominently.” Ultimately, the items retained a small version of the seal, according to several people familiar with the orders, the Times reported.
That article, which did not include any cost details, also reported that Pruitt initially sought to refashion the agency’s “challenge coin” — a sort of souvenir medallion handed out by many civilian and military leaders in government — by making the coin larger and removing the logo. Pruitt “instead wanted the coin to feature some combination of symbols more reflective of himself and the Trump administration. Among the possibilities: a buffalo, to evoke Mr. Pruitt’s home state, Oklahoma, and a Bible verse to reflect his faith,” the Times reported.
The agency never ordered new coins.
In a Senate hearing last month, Pruitt came as close as he ever has to publicly acknowledging any personal fault in the ethical decisions that have triggered a dozen federal inquiries, including probes by the EPA’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office and the White House itself.
“There have been decisions over the past 16 months that, as I look back, I would not make the same decisions again,” Pruitt told lawmakers.
Weeks earlier, he had told a House hearing that the public scrutiny surrounding him has been driven largely by those who oppose the agency’s direction under the Trump administration.
“Those who have attacked the EPA and attacked me are doing so because they want to derail the president’s agenda,” Pruitt said. “I’m not going to let that happen.”
Andrew Tran contributed to this report.