Donald Trump

Donald Trump defends EPA chief Scott Pruitt, target of ‘death threats’ amid backlash for lavish travel and sweetheart deal on flat

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 April, 2018, 11:10am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 April, 2018, 9:51pm

US President Donald Trump has defended his embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt against allegations of lavish spending on his security and travel in a tweet.

“While Security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA,” Trump said Saturday.

“Record clean Air & Water while saving USA Billions of Dollars. Rent was about market rate, travel expenses OK. Scott is doing a great job!”

The latest missive came a day after The Wall Street Journal reported that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly earlier this month told Trump that Pruitt should step down following a series of negative headlines.

Pruitt has been a loyal foot soldier in carrying forward Trump’s deregulation efforts, and the president has valued his advocacy for his agenda.

Trump has taken an axe to the environmental regulations he inherited from his predecessor Barack Obama, cutting dozens of rules ranging from fracking on public land to greenhouse gas emissions and protections for endangered species.

The growing speculation about Pruitt’s job security stems from stories highlighting his lavish travel costs at taxpayers’ expense, his request for extra security, extraordinary pay rises for close aides.

Lawmaker have been scrutinising Pruitt for renting a room in a high-end town house co-owned by the wife of energy industry lobbyist Steven Hart for US$50 a night, an arrangement that has drawn fire from ethics experts. Media reports say the payment is less than one-third the price of similar properties.

Hart lobbies for companies regulated by the EPA.

Pruitt is also under fire for purchasing costly items for his office, including a soundproof telephone booth.

Pruitt has come under criticism for having a 24-hour security detail, which his predecessors did not have.

At least 20 employees were placed on the detail, some of them reassigned from field work, according a letter from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat.

The Associated Press reported Friday that the security costs ran into the millions.

CNN also reported that Trump recently had floated replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions – who has earned Trump’s ire for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation last year – with the scandal-ridden Pruitt.

Three Republican members of Congress have joined Democratic calls for Pruitt to step down or be fired.

Pruitt has sought to defend his actions, telling the Washington Examiner that the criticism about his rental deal and other issues was a result of Trump’s enemies in “toxic” Washington who will “resort to anything” to stop their agenda.

Yet even amid the accusations of ethical lapses, conservative stars have been coming out in force to save the job of a zealous advocate of their small-government movement.

Prominent Republicans and leaders of the Tea Party movement – from publishing executive Steve Forbes to Senator Rand Paul – are writing op-eds, posting on Twitter, and picking up the phone to personally beseech the president to keep Pruitt at the helm of the EPA.

“He’s a conservative hero,” Dallas investor Doug Deason, whose family has given millions to right-wing candidates, said of Pruitt.

“It would be a huge mistake to do anything other than come out and support him.”

High-profile business leaders including billionaire Oklahoma oilman Harold Hamm have also been enlisted to make personal entreaties, and tell the president that Pruitt has done more than other top administration official to ease federal regulations standing in the way of manufacturing, mining, and drilling.

The right’s fondness for Pruitt is matched by the animosity he inspires among the political left. Environmentalists have campaigned against him since his confirmation in February 2017, casting him as an unabashed ally of corporate polluters who is dismantling regulations essential to safeguard the land, air and water.

“It’s a pretty sad statement of the priorities of these right-wing ideologues that they think someone who is clearly unethical and has no respect for taxpayers or the law is OK to keep around, as long as he pushes their dangerous agenda,” said John Coequyt, the Sierra Club’s senior director of federal policy.

“Pruitt has been nothing more than their puppet, putting public health at risk to help corporate polluter’s bottom line, and this is exactly why he needs to go.”

Trump told reporters Thursday that he had confidence in Pruitt and called him “very courageous” amid a barrage of damaging revelations.

Trump underscored that on Friday with a post on Twitter saying Pruitt “is doing a great job but is TOTALLY under siege.”

Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Bloomberg, Associated Press