President Donald Trump on Friday defended Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt as the embattled administrator faces mounting reports of lavish spending and questionable decisions related to his staff and housing arrangements.
“Do you believe that the Fake News Media is pushing hard on a story that I am going to replace A.G. Jeff Sessions with EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, who is doing a great job but is TOTALLY under siege?” Trump wrote in a Friday morning tweet.
“Do people really believe this stuff?” he added. “So much of the media is dishonest and corrupt!”
The post came a day after multiple administration officials familiar with Trump’s thinking told NBC News that the president had been considering, as recently as last week, replacing Sessions with Pruitt, who previously served as the attorney general of Oklahoma. The news was first reported by CNN.
In recent weeks, Pruitt has been the subject of multiple negative reports that have raised ethics concerns about his frequent first class travel, his sweetheart deal to rent a condo from the wife of an energy lobbyist, and big pay raises reportedly afforded to top aides without White House approval.
More allegations emerged Thursday, when CBS News reported that Pruitt, just weeks after he was confirmed to the post, wanted to use his vehicle’s sirens and lights to get through Washington, D.C., traffic. When his lead security agent refused the request, explaining that he couldn’t use them unless there was an emergency, the EPA reassigned him, CBS reported.
The New York Times also reported Thursday that several EPA officials, some of them senior, had been sidelined after questioning Pruitt.
Pruitt has faced continued fallout over reports that for the first six months he was in Washington, he leased a Capitol Hill condo tied to a lobbyist that did business with the EPA and paid just $50 a night, only for the nights he stayed there. The news was first reported by ABC News, which also reported that the townhouse is co-owned by Vicki Hart, the health care lobbyist wife of J. Steven Hart, an energy lobbyist.
And in February, Pruitt drew criticism after it was revealed he and his aides spent more than $90,000 for trips in early June and another $15,000 to fly home during the weekends to Oklahoma between March and May of 2017. Pruitt traveled mostly first class, despite federal regulations requiring federal officials to fly in coach. Two month earlier, in December, Pruitt and members of his staff spent roughly $40,000 in taxpayer funds to fly to Morocco to help encourage the country to import liquefied natural gas from the United States.
In addition, The Atlantic reported that Pruitt had bypassed the White House to give two top aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, substantial pay raises.
In an interview with Fox News Wednesday, Pruitt justified the condo arrangement, saying it was “like an Airbnb situation” and that he did not do anything improper. He also said he was unaware of the salary increases and planned to review the decision internally.
Despite the multitude of reports, Trump, on Thursday afternoon, defended Pruitt as “a good man” who has “done a terrific job” — though others within Trump’s administration are said to have advocated for Pruitt’s ouster.
“I think he’s a fantastic person,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One Thursday. “You know, I just left coal and energy country. They love Scott Pruitt. They feel very strongly about Scott Pruitt. And they love Scott Pruitt.”
The Wall Street Journal, citing a White House official, reported Friday that Chief of Staff John Kelly is among the White House aideswho are convinced that Pruitt should leave the administration.
However, that official told The Wall Street Journal, Trump is not ready to remove him given Pruitt’s success in pushing the president’s deregulatory agenda.
As the head of the EPA, Pruitt is Trump’s point man for the administration’s plan to roll back environmental regulations — many of which were put in place by the Obama administration and opposed by industry lobbyists — while boosting the continued burning of fossil fuels, which scientists have concluded is the primary cause of climate change.
On Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called on Pruitt to resign, joining a handful of Democratic senators who have also urged him to step down.
“EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s tenure has been a part of the Trump Administration’s culture of corruption, cronyism and incompetence. Pruitt must resign,” Pelosi said in a statement, adding that he “has displayed a staggering ethical blindness.”
At least three House Republicans — Reps. Elise Stefanik, of New York, and Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both of Florida — have also called on Pruitt to resign.