One of the two senior EPA staffers who received five-figure raises said in an email last month that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt himself had approved the salary increase, the Atlantic reported Monday. The reported email contradicts Pruitt’s own recent claim that he knew nothing about the raises at the time.
“I did not know that they got the pay raises until yesterday,” Pruitt said in an interview with Fox News Wednesday, referring to two senior aides who received five-figure raises even though the White House’s Presidential Personnel Office had rejected Pruitt’s request for the raises.
The Atlantic had reported the previous day that Pruitt, after that rejection, signed off on a plan to use a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire the aides as administrative staffers, which allowed them to receive salary increases without the White House’s approval.
Now, the Atlantic is reporting that one of the two aides given a raise, EPA senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt, emailed the EPA’s HR department in mid-March claiming that Pruitt had approved the raise.
An unnamed administration official who saw Greenwalt’s email in recent days told the Atlantic that the it “definitively stated that Pruitt approves and was supportive of her getting a raise.”
A second unnamed administration official said that it “essentially says, ‘The administrator said that I should get this raise.'”
Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, told the Atlantic Monday that “Administrator Pruitt had zero knowledge of the amount of the raises, nor the process by which they transpired.”
“These kind of personnel actions are handled by myself, EPA’s HR officials and PPO,” he added.
The first unnamed official said their “jaw dropped” when they saw Pruitt’s Fox News interview.
One of the unnamed officials told the Atlantic that, upon finding Greenwalt’s email following Pruitt’s interview, senior political appointees panicked.
“It’s an ‘oh, shit’ moment that they’re trying to figure out before the IG finds the email,” the source told the magazine, referring to an EPA inspector general’s probe of Pruitt’s behavior. “Because it’ll be damn near impossible to have Sarah explain her way out of it.”
After the Fox interview, senior political appointees at the EPA — including the two who received the five-figure raises, Greenwalt and EPA scheduling director Millan Hupp, whose pay was increased by $56,765 and $28,130, respectively — joked that Trump’s infamous line that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone” now applied to Pruitt, according to an unnamed official who witnessed the celebration.