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John Light

John is TPM‘s Prime editor. His writing has also appeared at The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, UN Dispatch, Vox, Worth, and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. Before joining TPM, John was a producer for Bill Moyers and WNYC, and worked as a news writer for Grist. He grew up in New Jersey, studied history and film at Oberlin College, and got his master‘s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Articles by John

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.

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Early on Monday evening, two of New York’s most formidable reporters, Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, reported allegations that state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman beat at least four women he was romantically involved with while intoxicated behind closed doors, leading more than one to seek medical attention. Three hours after the report was published, Schneiderman, one of the most prominent thorns in President Trump’s side and, in public, an advocate for women, stepped down.

By the following evening, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had appointed a special prosecutor, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, to look into Schneiderman’s case. The former AG could now face charges under a law strengthening the penalties for strangulation that he himself proposed and championed while a state senator.

This is one irony in a story that abounds with them. Schneiderman, for instance, was taking legal action against Harvey Weinstein. Yet his own downfall has become one of the most startling of the #MeToo era, which was kicked off by the allegations against Weinstein.

In Farrow and Mayer’s reporting, and in a separate story published in The New York Post, Schneiderman comes off as drunk on his own power (in addition to often being drunk). “I am the law,” he reportedly declared to former partner Michelle Manning Barish, justifying his decision to jaywalk. While driving drunk through the Hamptons, he allegedly told one date, who spoke to the New York Post anonymously, “I’m a state senator, and I rule this neighborhood.” The women who spoke to The New Yorker said he used this power to threaten them, warning he could have their phones tapped, have them followed, and even that he would kill them.

The irony here, of course, is that Scheiderman, now revealed as a bully, bullied other bullies while Attorney General. He opened one of the first investigations into U.S. oil companies who denied climate change publicly while their own scientists grappled with the reality. He made a show of taking on big banks following the financial crisis (though, by some measures, he didn’t deliver — to the left’s chagrin, no bankers were subpoenaed to explain themselves). And he sued Trump University for defrauding its students.

For this hypocrisy, Schneiderman is TPM’s Duke of the Week.

For years, TPM has given a series of annual Golden Duke awards. Named for disgraced former member of Congress Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the award honors a politician who has distinguished themselves with a display of corruption or abuse of power.

This year, we’ve decided to begin giving the award weekly lest we be overwhelmed with worthy candidates at year’s end.

These awards are often humorous, such as the story of former Rep. Steve Stockman, who spent Republican megadonors’ money on harebrained schemes, tanning salons and dolphin boat rides.

Schneiderman’s abuse of power, however, is no laughing matter.

It also comes with a weird coda. Yesterday, the news broke that Trump and Michael Cohen — who has been many news cycles’ Forrest Gump these last few weeks, popping up in places we never would have imagined — may have known about allegations of abuse against Schneiderman as early as 2013.

Two women who had been “sexually victimized” by Schneiderman — different women than spoke to the New Yorker — approached Attorney Peter Gleason in 2012 and 2013. Gleason cautioned them against going to Manhattan District Attorney (and former Golden Duke winner) Cy Vance, who Gleason believed would not help them (and who Gleason would later attempt to unseat). Instead, for reasons that are unclear, Gleason told their story to a New York Post reporter, who relayed the allegations to the Trump Organization. Trump’s personal attorney, Cohen, then called Gleason and discussed the allegations with him.

The story suggests that while Schneiderman was leading an investigation into Trump University and, later, being celebrated as a hero of the resistance, Trump may have had compromising info on him. And Schneiderman may have known it. Muddying the waters further, around this time, Schneiderman, according to Cohen and Trump, collected campaign donations from Trumpworld. Trump said in an affidavit that he gave Schneiderman $12,500 and introduced him to other potential donors. Cohen said he gave Schneiderman $1,000 and, according to Cohen, Schneiderman “repeatedly assured” him that the Trump University investigation “was going nowhere.”

Later that year, Trump tweeted “Weiner is gone, Spitzer is gone — next will be lightweight A.G. Eric Schneiderman. Is he a crook? Wait and see, worse than Spitzer or Weiner.”

It’s unclear who knew what, when, and what was done with the information. But it is clear that Schneiderman’s victims had been coming forward years before the New Yorker article was published — years before Schneiderman had even met and allegedly attacked some of the women who were The New Yorker’s sources. The whole story is a rats’ nest of once and future Dukes, with two alleged sexual predators — Trump and Schneiderman — at the center.

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Michigan wants to attach work requirements to Medicaid. But its plan for how to implement the requirements is under fire for favoring the state’s rural, white, poor over poor residents of color in urban areas. Alice Ollstein has more in our Weekly Primer on the battle over the future of Obamacare (Prime access), which rounds up all of this week’s developments on the health care front.

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