Related — Scott Pruitt Out At EPA
” ‘This place is weird,’ the source summed up that April morning. ‘Really, really weird.’
For this official and other political appointees who heard about Pruitt’s behavior, it seemed that he was on a goodbye tour of sorts. After all, it had been a fraught week for the administrator. Days before, my colleague Robinson Meyer and I had reported that Pruitt bypassed the White House to give hefty salary bumps to his two closest aides, which The New York Timeswould later report sparked ‘irritation’ in the West Wing. And it was the same week that Pruitt’s deputy, Andrew Wheeler, was set to be confirmed by the Senate. It was possible, multiple sources speculated at the time, that President Trump was waiting for Pruitt’s successor to be cleared before giving his embattled administrator the boot. ‘But we don’t want to jinx anything,’ one of the officials told me.
I prepared a story about Pruitt’s forthcoming exit.
Yet the week came and went, with Pruitt still atop the agency. And he stayed there for months, until Thursday afternoon when his resignation was announced via Twitter. ‘I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,’ the president tweeted. ‘Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this.’
The timing made sense, in a way, in that it made no sense at all. At various points throughout this tumultuous spring, including that April day, Pruitt’s departure seemed imminent. There were the mounting revelations about his lavish spending habits, for example. There were the congressional hearings in which young aides revealed that Pruitt had tasked them with, say, purchasing a used mattress, among other personal tasks. In past administrations, just one of Pruitt’s many scandals would have been cause for termination. But as the list of offenses snowballed, so did many EPA officials’ certainty that Pruitt’s job was safe. There was, a top official once told me, ‘no logic’ to his prolonged tenure. As recently as early Thursday afternoon, I texted an EPA source to see if the end was nigh, as a recent CNN report had suggested. No way of knowing, the source said: ‘I’ve been down this road too many times to get my hopes up.’
Such was the reality of life in Scott Pruitt’s EPA. To suggest that Pruitt’s demise was meticulously engineered by reporters, career staffers, or the so-called ‘deep state’—as some have suggested in the last 12 hours—is to ignore an inconvenient truth: Many members of Pruitt’s inner circle apparently couldn’t stand their boss. These were political appointees who, in private, would parse tea leaves in the hope that Trump had at last grown tired of his EPA chief. These were officials who flooded the Presidential Personnel Office with requests to transfer agencies—requests that, as one White House official told me, were too plenty by the end of April to accommodate. Perhaps most significantly, these were Trump devotees who believed in Pruitt’s vision of deregulation, but decided his ethical lapses were not a price worth paying.
‘The swamp changes people,’ said one official who unsuccessfully requested a transfer, back in May. ‘The mood is absolutely terrible here. [Pruitt] thinks he’s done nothing wrong and is untouchable.’
This account of the final months of the EPA under Pruitt’s leadership is based on interviews with a half-dozen current and former political appointees, as well as senior White House officials, all of whom requested anonymity so as to avoid backlash.
Problems in the agency started well before government-watchdog investigations began in earnest this spring. Though it wouldn’t come to light for over a year, a May 2017 memo used to justify Pruitt’s consistent first-class travel planted seeds of friction among his innermost circle. The memo, authored by Pruitt’s former security chief, Pasqualle Perotta, stated that Pruitt traveling in coach class or other, lesser accommodations would ‘endanger his life.’…
Officials began to get a glimpse into Pruitt’s ‘sense of entitlement,’ as the source put it. Around the same time, staffers began to notice his ambition, too. One former official remembered Pruitt’s anxiety upon seeing wall-to-wall cable coverage of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly’s joint trip to the U.S.-Mexico border in late April. ‘He was jealous of other members being on TV,’ the former official said, ‘so he was always pressuring us to book him on more shows.’…
Still, the sources said, the TV appearances seemed to endear Pruitt to the president, which excited EPA staffers. His advocacy for withdrawal from the Paris climate accord—which pitted him and former White House senior adviser Steve Bannon against Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump—helped endear him to Trump even more. At the time, Pruitt’s jockeying for the spotlight seemed to be positive for everyone involved: EPA officials were proud of the work they were doing, and it was rewarding to have a boss who seemed committed to touting that vision.
Those positive feelings faded in early January, however, when Politicoreported that Pruitt was angling to replace Sessions as attorney general. ‘With rumors swirling that Jeff Sessions could depart the administration … Pruitt is quietly positioning himself as a possible candidate for the job,’ Andrew Restuccia reported. ‘It’s unclear whether Pruitt would be on the shortlist for the position, but people close to the president said Trump has grown to like him.’
Around the same time, one official told me, Pruitt floated to some top staffers that he’d be a ‘great secretary of state’ should Rex Tillerson be fired. With speculation rampant that Sessions and Tillerson alike were on thin ice, the source said, Pruitt was all too happy to envision himself as one of their successors. The source added that Pruitt’s penchant for foreign travel began to take root: ‘He was really interested in building up the foreign-affairs part of his resume should something like Tillerson leaving end up happening.’
According to one former official, this was when office morale really began to crater. ‘People had come to support the mission,’ the source said, ‘and it’s very demoralizing to think your leader has checked out.’
Then the leaks began.”
Read the full article by Elaina Plott