- President Donald Trump said he still has confidence in Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt despite the reported advice of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly that he should resign.
- Pruitt’s long list of alleged ethics violations grew on Thursday when it was reported that staff members who were critical of Pruitt left or were reassigned from their positions.
- Pruitt also apparently removed a security agent after he refused his request to use emergency sirens to get through traffic to a meeting.
- The White House has said the president is not happy with the situation, but has faith in Pruitt.
President Donald Trump said he still has confidence in his embattled Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt after yet another day of scandals, and according to a Wall Street Journal source, is defying White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s advice that Pruitt should step down.
Trump reportedly mentioned as recently as this week that Pruitt could replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to CNN sources, but sent a tweet on Friday vehemently denying this claim.
“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?” the president tweeted. “Do people really believe this stuff? So much of the media is dishonest and corrupt!”
According to a White House official who spoke with the Wall Street Journal, Kelly and several other White House staff have come to an agreement that Pruitt should leave the administration, but Trump is still holding out. The president has reportedly approved of Pruitt deregulatory agenda and has praised the direction of the EPA, which has gotten rid of a number of fuel economy regulations and changed other environmental rules.
The list of allegations against Pruitt, who has been accused of a number of ethics violations over the last several months, grew again on Thursday when The New York Times reported that at least four high-ranking EPA officials were reassigned, demoted, or asked for new positions over the past year after they brought up concerns about Pruitt’s spending and management style.
Another lower level official, Trump appointee and former senior advance official for Trump’s campaign Kevin Chmielewski, also reportedly faced similar circumstances when he questioned Pruitt’s actions. Chmielewski was one of the Trump campaign’s first employees. Two of the other officials were moved to positions where they would have less input into spending decisions and interact less with Pruitt directly.
CBS News also reported on Thursday that Pruitt had requested his vehicle use the emergency sirens to get through Washington, DC traffic on his way to a meeting, only to be rebuffed by the lead agent on his security detail. The agent was removed from Pruitt’s detail less than two weeks later.
Speaking to reports aboard Air Force One on Thursday, the president confirmed his support for Pruitt.
“I think he’s done a fantastic job. I think he’s done an incredible job,” Trump said. “He’s been very courageous. It hasn’t been easy, but I think he’s done a fantastic job.”
He went on to say that he will look into the allegations against Pruitt.
“I have to look at them,” he said. “I’ll make that determination. But he’s a good man, he’s done a terrific job. But I’ll take a look at it.”
Pruitt’s scandals are causing the White House to take notice
Pruitt has come under fire for his spending, expensive travel habits, and security measures. Pruitt often flies first class on domestic and international flights citing security reasons, and has also used military and special charter jets. His travel expenditures have totaled $182,000, according to CBS.
He has also been living in a Washington, DC condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist for under market price, according to ABC News.
Pruitt’s management of his staff has also come under scrutiny – the EPA chief’s staff has reportedly given raises to two aides without White House approval, limited employee access to his office, and tracked his employees’ e-mails for criticisms of him or Trump.
CNN sources said that although Trump has recently grown more critical of Pruitt due to his apparent violations and his combative performance on an interview with Fox News, he still sees him as an eventual successor to Sessions.
“He was 100% still trying to protect Pruitt because Pruitt is his fill-in for Sessions,” one source told CNN.
Trump has reportedly been dissatisfied with Sessions ever since the attorney general recused himself from the Russia investigation in March 2017 after it was revealed that he had not disclosed contacts he had with former Russian ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak during Trump’s campaign.
But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Wednesday that the White House is investigating the situation, and that the president is “not” happy with him, according to The Washington Post.
“We’re reviewing the situation,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “When we have had a chance to have a deeper dive on it, we’ll let you know the outcomes of that. But we’re currently reviewing that here at the White House.”