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Amid mounting scandals, a close Pruitt ally controls EPA chief’s public records

Pruitt's agency has become famous for slow-walking access to public records.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in this Dec. 7, 2017, file photo. CREDIT: Pete Marovich/Getty Images
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in this Dec. 7, 2017, file photo. CREDIT: Pete Marovich/Getty Images

Scott Pruitt, the embattled administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), hired the former treasurer of his political action committee to oversee an office that decides which of his records to release to the public.

Pruitt hired Elizabeth Beacham White in September to head the Office of the Executive Secretariat. In that position, White sets policy for responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for sensitive records like Pruitt’s emails, his schedule, and his travel records.

Those documents — obtained by journalists and environmental groups through public records laws, often only after going to court — have fed a long list of scandals involving Pruitt’s alleged use of public office for personal gain and set off over a dozen separate investigations into Pruitt’s conduct.

“Someone so connected to Pruitt’s past and future political ambitions would have a clear motive to slow the release of records that undermine his image,” Andrew Bergman of the Project on Government Oversight told Politico. “Government service requires public trust, and that should never tangle with political aspirations.”

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Internal EPA emails obtained by Politico in May showed a policy of high-level political appointees reviewing FOIA requests related to Pruitt, slowing down an already glacial process. Career staff at the agency come under fire when they release records relating to Pruitt without a green light from political appointees, Politico reported.

Pruitt’s staff scrubbed potentially embarrassing or controversial meetings from his calendars before releasing them to the public, a possible federal felony, Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff for operations told CNN on Monday. It’s not clear whether White participated in those efforts.

The EPA praised White in a statement to Politico, calling her “an attorney of 18 years with extensive experience in government ethics and compliance that includes previously serving in the federal government.”

White joined one of Pruitt’s two PACs, Liberty 2.0, as treasurer in the fall of 2016. At the time she was working at the law firm Clark Hill alongside other close Pruitt associates. One of them, Charles Spies, was Liberty 2.0’s counsel. Ken Wagner, the former treasurer for Pruitt’s other PAC, Oklahoma Strong, is now a senior adviser at the EPA.

The news comes as Pruitt faces a fresh wave of scandals after news reports Monday that he asked employees to help his wife get a job and considered setting up a limited-liability corporation to skirt federal financial disclosure requirements. Pruitt also offered to temporarily replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions as head of the Justice Department during an Oval Office meeting with Trump this spring, CNN reported Tuesday night.

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Trump is looking into the “numerous” ethics allegations against Pruitt, deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday night.

“There is no timeline. But obviously the reports are troublesome,” Gidley said. “If we have an announcement, we will let you know.”