Apr 5, 2018

EPA officials reassigned, demoted after questioning Pruitt's behavior

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt looks over his shoulder in a crowd

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images

At least five officials at the Environmental Protection Agency underwent job changes in the past year after they raised questions of administrator Scott Pruitt's spending and management style, the New York Times' Eric Lipton, Kenneth Vogel, and Lisa Friedman scooped Thursday.

Why it matters: The story reveals that concerns about Pruitt's behavior were apparent within his own team before drawing the attention of the media.

The staffers' concerns ranged from his splurging on office furniture, first-class travel, and unusual security demands. Pruitt reportedly "bristled" when the officials confronted him, according to the Times. Examples:

  • A $100,000/month proposal for Pruitt to take unlimited private jet trips for official business.
  • $70,000 to replace two desks in Pruitt's office.
  • Use of lights and sirens during trips in Washington "including at least one trip to Le Diplomate, a trendy French restaurant," the NYT reported.
  • Request for a 20-person security detail and a bullet-proof SUV.

Staff turnover:

  • Kevin Chmielewski, appointed by Trump, was placed on administrative leave without pay, after going directly to the White House’s presidential personnel office, two administration officials told the Times.
  • Reginald E. Allen and Eric Weese, both career officials, were put into new jobs where they have a smaller say in spending decisions and interacted less with Pruitt.
  • John E. Reeder was told to find a new job.
  • John C. Martin, who served on the security detail, was removed from the team and had his gun and badge taken away after question how his security was being handled.
  • Ryan Jackson, Pruitt’s chief of staff, remains in his job despite raising questions about his boss' spending, but he is reportedly considering resigning.

Key detail: "Mr. Allen, Mr. Chmielewski, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Reeder at various points each voiced concerns to Mr. Pruitt directly about his spending, according to the two administration officials," per the Times.

A spokesman told the NYT the agency "dispute[s] the veracity of the allegations."

View from the White House:

  • Yesterday, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump is not okay with the recent revelations surrounding Pruitt.
  • But Trump, while speaking to reporters on Air Force One Thursday said Pruitt "has been very courageous," that it "hasn’t been easy,” and that Pruitt has "done a fantastic job.”

Quick take, from Axios' Amy Harder: The story is yet another bad headline for Pruitt, and the White House is growing wary of those. But, the story doesn't appear to provide a new smoking gun. Staff disgruntlement and his questionable spending habits were both generally well-known within the agency, but perhaps not quite as detailed until this story. This story also comes right as President Trump — for the second time in one day — reiterated his support for Pruitt.

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