Five months after first appearing in front of Congress in pursuit of the job of Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt may need to clarify his congressional testimony yet again.
Pruitt appears to have used two government email addresses while serving as attorney general of Oklahoma — despite telling the Senate that he used only one government email address during his time in that office.
Pruitt is not the only member of President Trump’s Cabinet to be probed for inconsistencies in their confirmation testimony. On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pressed by Democratic senators to explain why he claimed to have never met with a Russian official during the presidential campaign.
Pruitt is scheduled to testify Thursday about the EPA’s proposed budget before a House Appropriations subcommittee.
A batch of emails recently acquired by a watchdog group, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), shows that Pruitt used two addresses out of the Oklahoma attorney general’s office: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Documents the nonprofit watchdog received through an open-records request show Pruitt’s name associated with both the “scott.pruitt” and “esp” handles, the latter being initials for the former Oklahoma attorney general’s full name, Edward Scott Pruitt.
When asked about his email use as Oklahoma’s top prosecutor, Pruitt told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in writing in February: “I have used two e-mail addresses since becoming Attorney General of Oklahoma. I use a personal e-mail address for personal e-mail, and an official e-mail address for official business.”
This is not the first time an apparent discrepancy in Pruitt’s testimony on his email use as emerged. In February, the CMD published emails that showed Pruitt used his personal email address for state government work, which Pruitt also told the Senate he did not do, forcing Pruitt to clarify his testimony in a May letter to the Environment and Public Works Committee.
“This response was based on the best information available at the time and having only four days to complete approximately 1,100 written questions and subparts,” Pruitt wrote to the senators in a letter in May, maintaining that he did not mean to mislead Congress.
Terri Watkins, communications director for Oklahoma’s current attorney general, said she did not know why the second “esp” email was created or used, directing questions to the EPA. But she did confirm the existence of both email accounts.
“I can tell you they are both government accounts,” Watkins added. “They are both on the attorney general’s server.”
In a statement, EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox said: “At his confirmation hearing and in a subsequent letter to the EPW Committee sent on May 5, Administrator Pruitt said that he has state-provided email accounts, which are government email addresses that are recoverable, public and transparent.”
The EPA said Pruitt referred to using “state-provided email accounts” — plural — in that May letter to the Senate. The letter did not further specify the number of government email addresses he had.
Nick Surgey, CMD’s research director, said his group “can’t see a pattern” in how Pruitt used the two email addresses differently. “We’re starting to see a pattern of mistruths through the confirmation process,” he added.
The group found 10 emails sent to or from the secondary “esp” account in a set of about 70 handed over in response to a November 2015 open-records request for Pruitt’s communication about the Clean Power Plan, an Obama administration plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants that Pruitt and other red-state attorneys general successfully stymied in the courts.
Pruitt’s staff often used the email account to feed the then-attorney general talking points for media interviews. In one March 2016 message, for example, a staffer sent Pruitt talking points for an upcoming radio interview in defense of congressional Republicans’ refusal to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court, according to CMD’s records.
The controversy over Pruitt’s emails dates to a January 2015 request by the CMD for access to Pruitt’s communications, to which Pruitt was slow to respond. Only two years later, after a judge ordered the release of the emails and called withholding them “an abject failure to provide prompt and reasonable access to documents,” did Oklahoma’s attorney general office begin releasing the messages.
For much of his time as attorney general, Pruitt was under scrutiny from journalists and environmental groups for his close ties to the fossil-fuel industry. News stories, including a Pulitzer-winning piece in The New York Times, used Pruitt’s email records to establish his relationship with industry representatives, including those for Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy.