Scott Pruitt’s Trump-era troubles start to catch up with him


It’s difficult to say which member of Donald Trump’s team was the most controversial, but Scott Pruitt, who led the Environmental Protection Agency, is certainly in the running for the top slot. After all, the Oklahoma Republican abused his office to such a ridiculous extent that he found himself at the center of at least 14 investigations.

Some of those examinations are just now wrapping up. The New York Times reported late last week:

Scott Pruitt, while in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Trump administration, repeatedly pressured his federal security officers to drive at excessive and sometimes dangerous speeds on routine trips, with sirens and emergency lights on, because he had a habit of running late, according to a federal report released on Thursday.

“Can you guys use that magic button to get us through traffic?” Pruitt would ask members of his security detail, the report said.

At first blush, this might not sound that bad. After all, we’ve probably all exceeded speed limits on occasion. But in this instance, the details matter: The Times’ report added, “Among the incidents cited in the report was a 2017 trip in which a special agent drove Mr. Pruitt with the lights and sirens going, in the wrong direction into oncoming traffic, to pick up Mr. Pruitt’s dry cleaning, when Mr. Pruitt was late for an agency meeting.”

If I were writing a biography of the Oklahoma Republican, I’d be tempted to call it, “In The Wrong Direction Into Oncoming Traffic: The Scott Pruitt Story.”

But as it turns out, that wasn’t the only revelation of interest. E&E News reported yesterday that the EPA has abandoned its Trump-era defense of a soundproof booth built for Pruitt.

EPA has acknowledged that the installation of the secure phone booth in the administrator’s office ran afoul of appropriations law, which a congressional watchdog office determined was the case more than four years ago. Letters recently obtained by E&E News show that the agency has reported the infraction — and that more violations were found tied to decorating Pruitt’s office.

This mysterious booth has long been a symbol of Pruitt’s ridiculous tenure in the executive branch. Indeed, longtime readers may recall that it was just months into his EPA tenure when the Republican became the beneficiary of a customized, soundproof “privacy booth” to review and discuss sensitive materials.

The EPA already had a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), but in 2017, the agency signed a contract for another, to be used by its then-administrator.

Investigators later determined that the project violated federal spending laws, and now, the EPA is conceding that those findings were correct.

In theory, these developments would be little more than a curiosity, given that the incidents occurred years ago and Pruitt is no longer in office. The trouble is, Pruitt recently launched a comeback effort: The Republican is currently a U.S. Senate candidate in Oklahoma.

As we discussed a few weeks ago, Pruitt isn’t shying away from the controversies that forced him to resign four years ago; he’s practically bragging about them. Indeed, his first television ad pitched GOP primary voters on the idea that they should vote for him because journalists took note of his alleged misconduct — which in Pruitt’s mind, necessarily means his misconduct wasn’t real.

NBC News’ Benjy Sarlin summarized the broader dynamic perfectly: “There’s been a pretty rapid Trump-era evolution from ‘Scandals won’t bring down candidates like they used to’ to ‘If I run for office, I can move past my old scandal’ to ‘My scandal is a positive thing that shows that I’ve been unfairly victimized by the right enemies.’”

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