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Pruitt under fire again for misleading Congress on his email use

Pruitt’s conflicting testimony raises questions about accountability at EPA.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt attends a Cabinet meeting with President Donald Trump, June 12, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt attends a Cabinet meeting with President Donald Trump, June 12, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

When now-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testified at his confirmation hearing earlier this year, he misled senators about his email use as Oklahoma attorney general. Now, legislators are raising questions about whether he fully disclosed the details of his email use even after the original mistake was brought to light.

In January, Pruitt testified in writing that he used two email addresses — one for business, and one for personal use — as attorney general. In May, Pruitt conceded, again in writing, that he had used the personal email address for business purposes while holding office. Now, it turns out that Pruitt used at least two business email addresses within the attorney general’s office. The additional address was revealed in newly released email records, which were requested by the Center for Media and Democracy several years ago.

Earlier this week, Democratic members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee sent a letter to Pruitt, saying his repeated failure to fully disclose his email use raises “serious questions” about whether he can “be trusted to inform Congress about your communications as EPA administrator.”

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The senators, including Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Tom Carper (DE), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (OR), Edward J. Markey (MA), and Tammy Duckworth (IL), also took the opportunity to point out that Pruitt is currently under investigation by the Oklahoma Bar Association for “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.”

When asked about his email use as Oklahoma attorney general on Thursday during the House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the EPA budget, Pruitt denied that he misled the senate committee.

“There’s a letter actually that I submitted to the EPW Committee in May that recognized multiple state email accounts,” Pruitt said. “The representations that you are citing are not accurate,” he told Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN).

Nick Surgey, who submitted the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, was incredulous. “Pruitt’s response at the appropriations hearing today was just bizarre,” Surgey said in an email to ThinkProgress. “He has been caught (once again) having misled the Senate. But instead of owning up to it, he is now claiming that he has been ‘consistent’ about this all along. That is simply not true.”

The Center for Media and Democracy is still awaiting emails from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office that were requested years ago. The case is at the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

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While it is not immediately pertinent whether Pruitt had one, two, or 80 different email aliases in his Oklahoma role, legislators and watchdogs (including the media) have questioned whether Pruitt’s failures to disclose the full truth of his email accounts will spill over into his current role.

“Because of Pruitt’s poor record on access to records in Oklahoma, there is real concern from many advocates and journalists that the EPA is going to become less transparent,” Surgey said. His group has filed “dozens” of requests to the EPA this year, with “very few responses.”

“The signs so far are not positive,” he said.

ThinkProgress has also filed several FOIA requests to the EPA, which have, so far, gone unacknowledged. (Typically, federal agencies acknowledge requests prior to fulfilling them.)

In 2015, when Pruitt was still a state attorney general, it was revealed — through FOIA requests — that he had an uncommonly close relationship with an oil and gas company in Oklahoma. To wit, Pruitt took an email drafted by lawyers for Devon Energy and sent it to the EPA on state letterhead. The New York Times received a Pulitzer for the story; Pruitt went on to lead the EPA.

As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA numerous times, including over state cross-border pollution rules, ozone limits, and the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s flagship rule to limit carbon pollution from the electricity sector. Pruitt has said he would recuse himself when the EPA ethics office deemed it necessary.