Perhaps no scandal has so consistently and thoroughly dogged the Trump administration like that of Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt. And perhaps no scandal is as perfectly at-home in the Trump administration.
The sheer magnitude of the scandal is one thing — Pruitt now faces more than a dozen separate investigations — but perhaps more telling is where it's emanating from: the administration's own political appointees at the EPA. About the best possible defense Pruitt could put forward at this point is that all of these staffers are forming something of a “deep state” conspiracy to take him down — just as Trump has alleged of his own appointees at the Justice Department. But that increasingly requires believing that Pruitt's current and erstwhile allies are out to get him.
The most recent news on the Pruitt front comes courtesy of The Post's Juliet Eilperin, Josh Dawsey and Brady Dennis:
Two of Scott Pruitt’s top aides provided fresh details to congressional investigators in recent days about some of his most controversial spending and management decisions, including his push to find a six-figure job for his wife at a politically connected group, enlist staffers in performing personal tasks and seek high-end travel despite aides’ objections.
The Trump administration appointees described an administrator who sought a salary that topped $200,000 for his wife and accepted help from a subordinate in the job search, requested aid from senior EPA officials in a dispute with a Washington landlord and disregarded concerns about his first-class travel.
The interviews conducted by staffers for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee late last week shed new light on the EPA administrator’s willingness to leverage his position for his personal benefit and to ignore warnings even from allies about potential ethical issues, according to three individuals familiar with the sessions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation.
What's most notable here is that neither of these staffers are publicly denouncing Pruitt. Ryan Jackson, for instance, remains as Pruitt's chief of staff, but per The Post's reporting, last week he confirmed helping Pruitt obtain a controversial home rental from a lobbyist and said he raised concerns about Pruitt's routine first-class travel. Samantha Dravis, who detailed the employment situation with Pruitt's wife, has also been a key Pruitt ally. Even they have now filled out the picture of potential ethical lapses and wrongdoing.
And they aren't the only ones who have said they raised red flags. So, according to Eilperin, Dawsey and Dennis, has Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Patrick Wyrick, who happens to be a current Trump judicial nominee who has even been mentioned as a potential Supreme Court pick:
Meanwhile, Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Patrick Wyrick, who worked as the state’s solicitor general while Pruitt served as attorney general, cautioned Pruitt before and after he had assumed the helm of the EPA that his spending could lead to ethics problems and that he should curb it.
Pruitt previously offered perhaps the only defense he could, saying such stories were either fiction or embellishments. “Much of what has been targeted toward me and my team has been half-truths or at best stories that have been so twisted they do not resemble reality,” he said in April.
Pruitt has not spoken much of his situation since then. But last week, Pruitt ally Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) reversed his previously voiced concerns about the steady drip of accusations and declared them all to be “outrageous lies.”
But mounting that defense becomes more and more difficult when it is Pruitt's own staffers — most of whom he handpicked — that are lodging the accusations and confirming existing ones. And it's even more difficult when staffers who have defended him in the past are now the ones testifying under oath to things that may cross ethical lines.
Much like Trump, Pruitt seems to be banking on people throwing their hands up because of all the complicated machinations or thinking this is just how business is done in Washington. Increasingly, though, that's going to require believing his own staff are out to get him. Given that, it's perhaps no wonder that Trump sympathizes with Pruitt and hasn't axed him yet.