The Chick-fil-A thing didn't work out, but Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt still managed to use his office to secure a job for his wife, Marlyn. Pruitt last year assigned a top aide to serve as a kind of taxpayer-funded placement service, contacting Republican donors who might be willing to hire the spouse of a Cabinet official, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday. The search was successful; Marlyn landed at a conservative political group.
Pruitt's ethics saga is becoming comical. Even White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders could not suppress a wry smile last week when asked during a media briefing about the EPA chief's enlistment of a different aide to hunt for a secondhand mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
“I couldn't comment on the specifics of the furniture used in his apartment . . . and certainly would not attempt to,” Sanders said, drawing laughter from reporters.
How do Pruitt's abuses of power stack up against each other? Here are the definitive rankings:
1. The Chick-fil-A restaurant
Pruitt last year had his scheduler request a meeting with Chick-fil-A chief executive Dan Cathy to discuss “a potential business opportunity,” which turned out to be an opportunity for Pruitt's wife, Marlyn, to open a restaurant in the popular fast-food chain.
Scott Pruitt wound up speaking not with Cathy but instead with another company representative, and Marlyn Pruitt started but did not complete an application to become a Chick-fil-A franchisee. Though ultimately unsuccessful, the pursuit of a restaurant tops the list because it represents an attempt to use Scott Pruitt's position to establish a personal profit stream that could continue long after his time in office.
Also, Pruitt's defense — that “we need more of them in Tulsa, and we need more of them across the country,” as if trying to open a Chick-fil-A were some kind of public service — is particularly weak.
2. The $50-per-night condo
For six months last year, Pruitt enjoyed one of the sweetest housing arrangements in Washington: a condominium on Capitol Hill that he could rent for the far-below-market rate of $50 per night, paying only when he was in town. Making bad appearances worse, the condo belonged to the wife of a lobbyist whose firm represents energy companies with interests in EPA decisions.
Pruitt's deal seems antithetical to President Trump's “drain the swamp” mantra.
3. The persistent job hunt for Marlyn
Pruitt might have aimed too high when he tried to help his wife open her own Chick-fil-A. Seriously. The odds of becoming a franchise owner in the fast-food chain are lower than the odds of getting into Harvard.
Pruitt had better luck last year when he had Samantha Dravis, then serving as associate administrator for the EPA's Office of Policy, try to line up work for Marlyn. The Judicial Crisis Network, which has backed Pruitt for years, hired Marlyn “temporarily as an independent contractor,” the group confirmed. It did not say how much she was paid, but the job search shows the extent to which Pruitt used his office and government resources to generate income for his family.
4. The raises
Early this year, two of Pruitt's top aides received large raises: 52 percent in one case and 33 percent in the other. The White House had rejected such hefty pay increases, but the EPA used an obscure provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act to hand them out, anyway.
“I did not know about the pay raise,” Pruitt told Fox News, but three administration officials told The Washington Post that Pruitt endorsed the raises.
5. The $43,000 soundproof phone booth
For frivolity, this one is hard to beat. The Government Accountability Office determined in April that the pricey installation of a soundproof phone booth in Pruitt's office violated federal spending laws, which require agencies to notify lawmakers if exceeding a $5,000 cap on furnishing, redecorating or otherwise making improvements to agency heads' offices.
6. The first-class travel
Early in his tenure, Pruitt made a habit of flying first class while his aides sat in coach, inflating the EPA's travel costs. Federal regulations require government travelers to “exercise the same care in incurring expenses that a prudent person would exercise if traveling on personal business . . . and therefore, should consider the least expensive class of travel that meets their needs.”
7. The lotion
Pruitt's security detail cost $3.5 million in 2017, almost twice the annual price tag to protect his recent predecessors. The EPA justified round-the-clock security by saying Pruitt “has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him.” Pruitt, however, has sometimes used bodyguards for nonsecurity purposes — to procure moisturizing lotion from the Ritz-Carlton and to pick up dry cleaning, for example.
8. The mattress
In the fall, Pruitt tasked his scheduler with the nongovernment mission of shopping for a discount “Trump Home Luxury Plush Euro Pillow Top” mattress. Pruitt also deployed the aide, Millan Hupp — one of the two to receive a big raise — to scout apartments in desirable Washington neighborhoods and to help arrange a family vacation to California so the Pruitts could watch the University of Oklahoma football team play in the Rose Bowl.
9. The $130 fountain pens
Pruitt's expensive taste extends to writing implements. The EPA in August spent $1,560 on a dozen customized silver fountain pens emblazoned with the agency's seal and Pruitt's signature. An order from the Tiny Jewel Box, which bills itself as Washington's “premier destination for fine jewelry and watches,” also included $1,760 worth of other high-end office supplies, such as personalized journals.
10. The dinner reservation
The New York Times reported in April that Pruitt has sometimes asked his security detail to turn on lights and sirens to clear traffic so that he can travel faster to the airport or dinner, as he did on one evening when running late for a reservation at the French restaurant Le Diplomate.
11. The mess hall
Last year, as Pruitt became a regular at the bargain-priced White House mess hall, the White House told agency chiefs of staff that Cabinet members should dine there only occasionally and not overuse their access to cheap eats, Politico reported. Pruitt, according to the report, “has been known to complain that EPA headquarters has no cafeteria of its own and no private dining quarters.”