Five top Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees were either placed on leave or reassigned after raising concerns about Administrator Scott Pruitt’s spending and management habits.
The news, revealed by the New York Times on Thursday afternoon, shows high-ranking EPA officials repeatedly raised concerns about Pruitt’s exorbitant spending on first-class travel and office furniture, as well as certain demands made for increased security coverage, including expanding his protective detail to 20 people.
The revelations add to a growing picture that numerous officials within the agency were aware of, and voiced their objection to, Pruitt’s ethically questionable habits. And yet, nothing appears to have been done to change course. Instead, critics were demoted.
Kevin Chmielewski, a Trump administration political appointee, was placed on administrative leave without pay after bringing his concerns about Pruitt’s conduct directly to the White House personnel office. Chmielewski reportedly objected to the idea of buying a $100,000-a-month charter aircraft membership for the administrator, as well as spending $70,000 to replace two desks in his office.
Eric Weese questioned some of Pruitt’s security requests, including the use of lights and sirens when he was running late — on one occasion, so he could get to dinner at the popular D.C. restaurant Le Diplomate, according to the Times report. Weese was moved off Pruitt’s security detail.
An EPA spokesperson denied that the reassignments were connected to the staff members’ push-back on Pruitt’s extravagant spending and unreasonable requests.
Pruitt’s repeated denials regarding the numerous allegations of ethical misconduct he is currently facing stand on increasingly thin ground as more information emerges.
Earlier this week, news came out that Pruitt went around the White House to approve significant pay increases for two of his closest aides. When asked by Fox News why he went around President Trump to give the pay raises, Pruitt denied he approved the salary increases. “I did not,” he said. “My staff did. And I found out about that yesterday and I changed it.”
During the Fox News interview, Pruitt was also questioned about whether it might be an issue that he had rented a Capitol Hill condo — for below market value — linked to an energy lobbyist. Pruitt dodged, saying “Mr. Hart has no clients who have business before this agency.”
In reality, Steven Hart is a high-profile lobbyist for Williams & Jensen whose clients include Canadian pipeline company Enbridge. As it happens, during the same period of time that Pruitt was renting the condo, the EPA signed off on a pipeline approval for Enbridge.
And according to The Daily Beast, Hart was part of a team of four lobbyists at Williams & Jensen that reported lobbying the EPA on behalf of a glass bottle manufacturer, Owens-Illinois, which had paid almost $40 million in 2012 to settle allegations it faced from the EPA about Clean Air Act violations by one of its subsidiary.
New reporting Thursday revealed Steven Hart’s name was on Pruitt’s original lease and was crossed out and replaced with his wife Vicki’s, undermining Pruitt’s defense of his living arrangements.
Despite the ever-unfolding series of controversies surrounding Pruitt, Trump continues to voice support for him.
“I think Scott has done a fantastic job. I think he’s a fantastic person. You know, I just left coal and energy country,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “They love Scott Pruitt. They feel very strongly about Scott Pruitt. And they love Scott Pruitt. Thank you very much everybody.”