The Scott Pruitt-led Environmental Protection Agency has sorted guests at public events into “friendly” and “unfriendly” camps in an effort to anticipate tough questions, according to now-public records detailed in a New York Times report Monday.
These details and others were reported for the first time thanks to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the Sierra Club that resulted in more than 10,000 pages of documents from an EPA known for its over-the-top secrecy. The New York Times’ Eric Lipton, who broke down some of the documents in the Monday report, also sued the EPA for access to Pruitt’s calendar.
In one representative effort to pre-empt questions from the public, Pruitt’s scheduling director told a cattle rancher who was organizing an event for Pruitt in Iowa: “With a crowd of 300 people plus open press, we have to stick with the questions we currently have.”
That means, according to the report, that Pruitt would answer questions written by his own EPA employees instead of event attendees.
A spokeswoman for Christine Todd Whitman, former President George W. Bush’s EPA administrator, told the Times of the Whitman-led EPA: “They didn’t selectively inform the press or take any steps to keep things secret.”
In several instances, according to the report, Pruitt’s staff sought to sort event attendees and media outlets into those “friendly” and “unfriendly” to the administrator.
“Sixteen friendly Industry leaders will be invited to attend” an event, according to one memo. After the details of a separate meeting were made public by Missouri Network Television, an EPA staffer asked an event organizer if the news organization was “the friendly outlet.”
“It is,” the organizer, Barry Hart of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, responded, “but since it’s a public tweet you have to assume the world now knows including all news media … even unfriendly.”
Read the Times’ report in full here.