EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt appeared before a Senate subcommittee today, where he was asked to account for the ever-growing number of scandals surrounding his tenure. In response to questions from Senate Democrats, he denied and deferred. In many cases, however, his answers were at odds with public documents and claims made by his own staff.
TPM’s Alice Ollstein and Matt Shuham were following along. They pulled together some of the key contradictions, summarized here.
1. Pruitt dodged questions about whether he asked for an unprecedented level of 24/7 security.
A report from the EPA’s Office of Inspector General released earlier this week concluded that EPA’s decision to provide Pruitt with an expensive security detail came at the request of Pruitt himself.
“The decision was made by the Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training after being informed that Mr. Pruitt requested 24/7 protection once he was confirmed as administrator,” the report states.
But, in today’s hearing, Pruitt dodged questions from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) about his request, stating “the decision to provide 24/7 security was made, as indicated by this report, by law enforcement career officials at the agency.”
2. Pruitt claimed his landlord wasn’t a lobbyist when Pruitt rented the apartment.
“Steve Hart is someone that was not registered as a lobbyist in 2017,” Pruitt said in response to questions from Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM). “He’s a longtime associate and friend.”
Hardly. While not a registered lobbyist in 2017, Hart was the Chairman of the high-profile DC lobbying firm Williams & Jensen, a firm with clients before the EPA. Earlier this year, Hart retired from the firm and, on the same day, the firm filed a lobbying disclosure saying that he had lobbied for Smithfield Foods in 2018. In 2017, Hart and a Smithfield executive had met with Pruitt.
3. Pruitt said he didn’t ask his staff to use sirens to get him to dinner on time.
Pruitt is notorious for using lights and sirens to help his motorcade get him where he’s going, including to fancy Beltway restaurants. On Wednesday, Sen. Udall sought to confirm that Pruitt “personally requested that on a number of trips.”
“No, I don’t recall that,” Pruitt said.
But his statement contradicts one made in an email released by Udall’s office, in which Pruitt’s security chief wrote “Btw – Administrator encourages the use…” The subject line of the email is “light and sirens.”
4. Pruitt claimed he didn’t retaliate against a staffer who questioned his spending.
Sen. Van Hollen asked the administrator about Kevin Chmielewski, a former deputy chief of staff for operations at the EPA who challenged Pruitt’s expensive travel. Chmielewski was subsequently ousted.
“I can say to you that I’m not aware of any personnel decision being made with respect to the person you are referring to, with respect to any policy issues or budget issues or spending issues,” Pruitt told Van Hollen.
That goes against what Chmielewski himself told five Democratic members of Congress.
After Chmielewski refused to sign off on a first-class flight home from Morocco for Pruitt and an EPA office of policy official, Samantha Dravis, Pruitt’s Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson “called Mr. Chmielewski into his office and informed him that [Pruitt] wished to fire or reassign him,” the Democratic members of Congress said. Chmielewski also told the members of Congress about another time he was informed that Pruitt wanted him to resign, in this case by the EPA’s White House liaison.