After Scott Pruitt’s surprise resignation as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator following months of mounting scandals, the next question is, what happens to all of the investigations?
The last few months of Pruitt’s tenure have brought almost daily revelations about questionable spending and management practices, as well as potential violations of federal law. At the time of his July 5 resignation, he faced more than a dozen investigations.
His last day on the job is Friday, but that doesn’t mean Pruitt is off the hook.
“Some of the investigations will continue, they should continue, but some may not,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) told NPR on Friday. Carper, a senior Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, has been involved in urging ever-more scrutiny into Pruitt’s misdeeds.
Calling his professional demise “death by a thousand cuts” Carper said some allegations — such as news of Pruitt’s search for Ritz Carlton moisturizer — might “slip away.” The more damning ones however will continue, he expects.
According to multiple sources, the investigations being conducted by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General will continue.
A spokesperson for Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) told ThinkProgress that the lawmaker’s office was informed by the EPA’s inspector general that “the related ongoing audits will continue normally under our usual process.” Udall was among the most critical of Pruitt’s leadership and led many calls for investigations.
The OIG has also confirmed with NBC, CNN, and Mother Jones that multiple investigations will continue. These include examinations into Pruitt’s frequent trips home to Oklahoma and his use of first class travel at taxpayers’ expense. Should there be enough for a criminal probe, referrals can be made to the US Department of Justice.
As an OIG spokesperson told CNN on Thursday: “Any ongoing or pending OIG reviews related to the Administrator and/or his team will continue — regardless of the Administrator’s resignation.”
The EPA’s inspector general is currently looking at roughly 10 different allegations against Pruitt. It is auditing his travel, his excessive spending on his security detail, and his use of multiple email accounts. Probes have also been launched into his use of a security detail for personal trips to the Rose Bowl and Disneyland, and a sweetheart condo deal tied to an energy lobbyist who lobbied the EPA during Pruitt’s stay at the apartment last summer.
The OIG is also conducting preliminary research into how the EPA’s criminal enforcement office reports “availability pay” awarded to officers who frequently work unscheduled time beyond the regular workday. It is also looking separately at the significant pay raises given to some top aides and is compiling information about Pruitt’s meeting with the National Mining Association last April and whether it violated lobbying laws.
The inspector general is also investigating allegations that Pruitt made subordinates run his personal errands, including searching for a used Trump Hotel mattress. It’s also looking to allegations that staff members were ordered to ask Chick-fil-A to set up a franchise for his wife. The OIG is also scrutinizing reports that staff were reassigned or demoted after questioning his spending habits.
“There may be criminal liability, there’s some misuse of government resources, all kinds of things he’s been accused of doing that he very clearly should not have been doing, so we expect the investigations to continue into his actions for a while,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director of accountability watchdog, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
But Pruitt isn’t just being investigated by the EPA’s internal watchdog. The Government Accountability Office has two ongoing probes into the administrator. One is an examination into whether Pruitt violated lobbying laws by appearing in a video for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association describing his opposition to a rule on water pollution enacted under Obama.
The other probe looks at the EPA’s reshuffling of its science advisory committees, including dismissing members and replacing them with people from oil and power companies.
One already concluded investigation determined that the EPA violated the law by failing to notify Congress before spending more than $43,000 to install a secure phone booth in Pruitt’s office.
It’s unclear whether the GAO investigations will continue. A spokesperson told ThinkProgress on Friday that “No decisions on this have been made at this time.”
Congress also has Pruitt in its sights. His first class travel — including taxpayer funded trips last year to Morocco and Italy — is being investigated by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as are his expensive security detail and his rental of a Capitol Hill condo for just $50 per night. This investigation is expected to continue.
The fate of two other probes, however, is unclear for the moment: The White House Office of Management and Budget is examining the EPA’s purchase of the soundproof phone booth. And the U.S. Office of Special Counsel has launched an investigation into reports that Pruitt retaliated against staff members who challenged his decisions. Neither office had replied to requests for information from ThinkProgress at the time this article was published.
Mere hours before Pruitt’s resignation, new calls were being issued by Democrats for even more investigations into his conduct, amid new reports this week revealing that Pruitt scrubbed his official calendar of controversial meetings. The allegation, if true, would violate federal records law related to the tampering of documents.
And last month, a group of House Democrats asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Pruitt broke the law in his interactions with energy lobbyist Stephen Hart, the husband of the woman who co-owned the Capitol Hill condo the EPA chief rented last year.
They also requested that Pruitt’s demands that his staff to do his personal errands be investigated: federal law bars officials from using public positions for personal gain. It also prohibits officials from requesting or accepting services from a subordinate employee that are not part of that employee’s official duties.
And just minutes before Pruitt’s resignation, announced by President Trump yesterday, the New York Times revealed that Pruitt’s former senior scheduler, Madeline Morris, was fired last summer after she questioned Pruitt’s calendar deletions, which she believed to be illegal.
As an OIG spokesperson told ThinkProgress: “At this point, I can only say that the EPA OIG is still reviewing and evaluating the latest news regarding Pruitt’s resignation.”