The knives have come out for Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt. His deregulatory bona fides are being overwhelmed by a whole host of scandals that may have finally reached a tipping point.
Today The New York Times reports that Pruitt's staff was under pressure to help the man use his status to get favors for his family and himself. To wit:
As an example, Mr. Pruitt, shortly after taking the E.P.A. job, reached out to the former speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates seeking help for his daughter, McKenna, in securing admission to the University of Virginia School of Law. William Howell, the former speaker, appears on Mr. Pruitt's official E.P.A. calendar, and he confirmed in an interview that he was approached by Mr. Pruitt and subsequently wrote a letter to the school's dean on the daughter's behalf.
Mary M. Wood, a spokeswoman for the university, declined to comment on the letter, which has not been previously reported, citing student privacy. Mr. Howell said he doubted his letter tipped the scales for Ms. Pruitt. A spokesman for Mr. Pruitt said that he and Mr. Howell had known each other for two decades and that "letters of recommendation are normal process for an application to law school."
(Important correction from the Times here: After this piece was published, Howell realized he had gotten the date wrong on the timeline for the request. Pruit had not actually started work at the EPA when he requested the letter for his daughter. They've updated the story.)
For those who keep a close eye on government corruption, this probably seems like small potatoes, and it is. (And it's very much in line with common Beltway behavior to try to use connections to get kids into schools.) Indeed, most of Pruitt's scandals are pretty small potatoes—using his staff for all sorts of inappropriate purposes, like tracking down lotion and trying to get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise. Some of these are Veep-level comically dumb. It's easy to imagine Selina sending her toadyish personal assistant Gary off on a mission to track down a used mattress from a Trump hotel, just as Pruitt is accused of doing.
But with enough small potatoes you can make quite the hash. All these ethical lapses are overwhelming anything Pruitt might be accomplishing as a deregulator.
National Review is no fan of President Trump, but it's very much a magazine for conservatives who'd like to see fewer federal regulations. Its policy goals align with Pruitt's. But they've had enough, and they're calling for Pruitt to step down:
This is no way for any public official to treat taxpayers. It also makes it practically impossible for Pruitt to make the case for the Trump administration's environmental policies—a case that we continue to believe deserves to be made. It does not help that Pruitt's conduct has left him nearly alone at the agency. Many of his top aides have fled and paranoia seems to consume those who remain.
We share most of Pruitt's views about environmental policy. But the same could be said of many other people, including Andrew Wheeler, the agency's deputy administrator, who would become acting administrator upon a vacancy in the top job. Pruitt is replaceable. And he should be replaced.
Reason's Ron Bailey has previously described how Pruitt's attempts to personally benefit from his role at the EPA undermines his mission. Environmental activists regularly claim that deregulation is pushed by corrupt corporations. When the head of the EPA is clearly using his power to benefit himself and his family, this feeds the association between deregulation and corruption.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) claims he hasn't been paying attention to Pruitt's ethics issues. Today Trump gave a rather vague defense that should be considered a warning sign: "I'm not happy about certain things, but he's done a fantastic job running the EPA, which is very overriding." The subtext is that it can stop being "overriding" at any point. That Trump is "not happy" about some of Pruitt's behavior is an issue.
But given Trump's mercurial tendencies, it's hard to predict what might happen or when. Maybe Pruitt will stay on for a long time. Maybe Trump will fire him over Twitter this afternoon.
This post has been updated to note an important correction about one accusation against Pruitt from The New York Times.