Columnist

I am skeptical of reports saying that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was forced to resign.

There is no way that guy could have been forced out of his office — even with special ops teams involved. Pruitt spent the past 16 months turning the Environmental Protection Agency into a paramilitary operation, with the sole purpose of protecting him.

Pruitt had spent some $4.6 million on security, enlisting a round-the-clock detail that followed him everywhere, even to Disneyland and Italy, whisking him from his office — where a $43,000 soundproof phone booth cocooned him and a panic alarm connected him directly to the security office — to the $50-a-night room in a condominium that he had rented from a lobbyist.

He clothed his security agents in $2,750 worth of “tactical pants” and “tactical polos,” the Intercept reported. He got them $88,000 worth of security radios, holsters and travel charges. He let it be known that he liked to travel around with police lights flashing and the siren blaring — the better to avoid traffic — and this undoubtedly improved the experience in the Chevy Suburban with bullet-resistant seats that he leased for $10,200 a year.

He made sure his guards were equipped, on the ground, with a $931 breaching kit of the type they used to break down the door to his lobbyist-owned condo when he was napping and staff grew panicky that they could not reach him. In the air, he flew first class to minimize his contact with passengers who might “endanger his life.” Even the administrator’s skin was well protected; he dispatched his security detail to the Ritz-Carlton to find him the scented lotion he required.

Democrats are gleeful about Pruitt’s resignation, and Republicans are disinclined to defend him. This is unfortunate, for Pruitt was one of the greats. In fact, he was possibly the all-time-greatest public servant, if we take that term to mean, literally, “one who is served by the public.”

By this measure, Pruitt’s accomplishments were nonpareil. It wasn’t just the quantity of investigations his activities occasioned — Fourteen? Sixteen? Depends on who’s counting — but the breadth of his behavior. Taxpayers are said to have paid for: his travel home to Oklahoma, sometimes by private charter or military jet; his government aides doing house-hunting for him and putting his hotel rooms on their personal credit cards; a lobbyist-arranged trip to Morocco and attempts for a similar trip to Australia; $1,560 worth of fountain pens with Pruitt’s signature on them; raises for aides loyal to Pruitt and consideration of opening an EPA office in Tulsa so Pruitt could work near home. Along the way, Pruitt reportedly demoted or sidelined those who resisted such schemes, used private email and phones for government work, and attempted to get jobs for his wife with the Republican Attorneys General Association and Chick-fil-A.

And yet, Pruitt survived — for 503 days from swearing-in to resignation. That’s an eternity in the Trump administration. Anthony Scaramucci set the standard, lasting just 10 days in his job managing White House communications. If we take Scaramucci’s 10-day figure to be the standard of measurement — one “mooch” — then Pruitt survived an amazing 50.3 mooches, even while enduring more than a dozen scandals, any one of which would have doomed a lesser man.

Yet here was President Trump in April: “He’s been very courageous. Hasn’t been easy, but I think he’s done an absolutely fantastic job. I think he’ll be fine.” In June, Trump declared that “Scott is doing a great job” despite “being attacked very viciously by the press.” (Hence the need for tactical pants and bullet-resistant car seats.)

How did Pruitt do it for so long? Some say it’s because he was effective at the EPA, where he did a very skillful job of not enforcing environmental regulation. Others point to his prodigious sycophancy: having his staffers seek out a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel, dining so often at the White House mess that he was urged to eat elsewhere, and letting it be known that he would be willing to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III if Trump fired Jeff Sessions as attorney general and gave Pruitt the job on an acting basis.

But I think a third explanation may account for Pruitt’s longevity in the face of insurmountable scandal. While the media, and the Democrats, were getting all worked up about the mattress and the lotion and Chick-fil-A and Disneyland and the phone booth and the bulletproof seats and the rest of Pruitt’s penny-ante corruption, relatively little attention was going to the emoluments, which are of much greater value: Ivanka Trump’s trademarks and Jared Kushner’s investors and foreign governments pumping millions into Trump properties.

Now Pruitt is gone, and Trump is about to be caught with his tactical pants down.

Read more from Dana Milbank’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.