Things have gone from bad to worse to even worse for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.
A new Washington Post report cites two sources suggesting Pruitt just gave an at-best-misleading denial of his role in granting two aides raises. Those raises had been flagged because they were rejected by the White House but were then granted using an obscure provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act.
This comes along with questions about Pruitt's use of first-class travel, his handling of other EPA staff and Pruitt's renting of a Capitol Hill condo for $50 a night. The Post story quotes a senior EPA ethics lawyer as saying she was effectively forced into a cursory and incomplete review of Pruitt's condo lease with the wife of a lobbyist — “What they gave me was not the full picture,” she said bluntly.
The Post report, published online Thursday night, also cites two EPA officials who say Pruitt endorsed granting substantial raises to senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt and scheduling and advance director Millan Hupp, though they say he did not carry out the pay raise himself.
That's certainly different from what Pruitt told Fox News's Ed Henry when he repeatedly suggested he had just found out about the situation and even said he didn't know who was responsible:
HENRY: Now if you’re committed to the Trump agenda, why did you go around the president in the White House and give pay raises to two staffers?
PRUITT: I did not — my staff did and I found out about that yesterday, and I changed it. That [Presidential Personnel Office] process should have been respected, and I issued a statement yesterday walking back those pay raises that should not have been —
HENRY: Should somebody be fired for that?
PRUITT: — should not have been done.
HENRY: Who did it?
PRUITT: And maybe — there will be some accountability for that.
HENRY: A career person or a political person?
PRUITT: I don’t know, I don’t know.
HENRY: You don’t know.
PRUITT: I don’t —
HENRY: You don’t know — you don’t know who did it?
PRUITT: I found out about this yesterday, and I corrected the action.
HENRY: And you didn’t know that they got these large pay raises?
PRUITT: I did not know that they got the pay raises until yesterday.
PRUITT: I would say to you that I’ve said, unequivocally, that what’s at place here should not have taken place —
PRUITT: And I learned about it yesterday. I did not know about the pay raise. I did not approve the process. The process was breached by individuals here at this agency. And there’s going to be accountability there. Those individuals — that should not have happened. I can’t say anything any clearer than that.
Indeed, it's hard for him to be clearer. Pruitt clearly leaves the impression that he knew nothing about this situation. That's pretty difficult to square with what EPA officials and a White House official told The Post — that Pruitt ordered the pay raises.
Pruitt may soon argue that while he ordered the raises, he didn't sign off on the method by which they were awarded. Perhaps he'll say he didn't know that, when they were rejected by the White House's Presidential Personnel Office, EPA staff found a workaround using the Safe Drinking Water Act. “I did not approve the process” suggests how he might square his version with this new reporting.
But that doesn't explain everything. In his Fox interview, Pruitt paints a picture of almost complete ignorance. He says twice that he didn't even “know about the pay raises,” but if he ordered it — even by another process and even if he didn't know they eventually went through — he would have technically had knowledge of the situation.
He also suggests that he doesn't even know who was responsible for the raises. But if he ordered the raises in the first place — even just through the regular process running through the White House — it would seem he would know who we responsible for trying to secure the raises.
Pruitt has some more explaining to do.