EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Wednesday contradicted a recent report that he went around the White House and used a loophole in an environmental law to give two top advisers huge raises. He blamed unnamed staff for the scandal, but also said he didn’t know who was responsible.
The Atlantic reported Tuesday that in early March, Pruitt requested five-figure raises from the White House’s Presidential Personnel Office for two top aides of his, but that his request was rejected. Pruitt reportedly then used his authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire the two aides as administrative staffers with much larger salaries, without needing the White House’s or Congress’ approval. The report was unambiguous: “Pruitt ordered it done.”
“I did not,” Pruitt told Fox News’ Ed Henry in an interview clip released Wednesday, asked why he went “around the President and the White House and give pay raises to two staffers.”
“My staff did and I found out about that yesterday, and I changed it,” he said. “The [Presidential Personnel Office] process should have been respected, and I issued a statement yesterday walking back those pay raises. That should have been done.”
He appeared to be referring to a statement an EPA spokesperson gave one of the Atlantic reporters behind the story, Elaina Plott, after its publication: “The Administrator was not aware that these personnel actions had not been submitted to the Presidential Personnel Office. So, the Administrator has directed that they be submitted to the Presidential Personnel Office for review,” the spokesperson said.
“So is somebody being fired for that?” Henry asked Pruitt. “Who did it?”
“There will be some accountability,” Pruitt said.
“A career person or a political person?” Henry pressed.
“I don’t know,” Pruitt said.
“You don’t know?” Henry asked. “You run the agency. You don’t know who did it?”
“I found out about this yesterday and I corrected the action, and we are in the process of finding out how it took place and correcting it,” Pruitt said.
Henry pointed out that Pruitt had worked with both aides — Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp — when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general. They now serve as senior counsel and scheduling director at the EPA, respectively. Greenwalt’s pay raise was $56,765 and Hupp’s was $28,130, according to the Atlantic.
“Both of these staffers who got these large pay raises are friends of yours, I believe from Oklahoma, right?
“They are staffers here in the agency,” Pruitt said, without answering the question.
“They’re friends of yours?” Henry asked again.
“Well, they serve a very important person here,” Pruitt said. [Fox News’ transcription uses the word “purpose” in place of “person.” The audio is unclear.]
“They did not get a pay raise,” he added later. “They did not. I stopped that yesterday.”
“Are you embarrassed?” Henry asked.
“It should not have happened, and the officials who were involved in that process should not have done what they did,” Pruitt said.
Separately, according to Fox News’ write-up of the interview, Pruitt pushed back against a scandal — first reported by ABC News — over his peculiar lease agreement with Vicki Hart, the lobbyist spouse of a powerful energy lobbyist, Steven Hart.
Bloomberg first reported that Pruitt paid $50 a night for only the nights he stayed at the townhouse, and ABC News then reported that Pruitt’s daughter also inhabited a room in the townhouse during a White House internship, despite only her father being on the lease. The network also reported that Pruitt and his daughter had access to the rest of the townhouse, despite an EPA spokesperson’s initial claim that Pruitt rented a bedroom.
Pruitt, Fox News wrote, blames the left for the scandal “and says they are out to get him.”
“This was like an Airbnb situation,” Pruitt said of the living arrangement. “When I was not there, the landlord, they had access to the entirety of the facility. When I was there, I only had access to a room.”
Watch the interview segment below via Fox News:
Here’s Fox News (!!!) grilling Scott Pruitt over big pay raises two of his friends from Oklahoma who are working for the EPA received pic.twitter.com/fx0y558361
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 4, 2018