Pruitt's 24/7 security requested over fears of Trump policy backlash

Pruitt's 24/7 security requested over fears of Trump policy backlash
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A Trump administration official originally requested and justified a round-the-clock security detail for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) based on fears that President TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE’s expected policy changes would create significant public backlash.

Internal EPA emails obtained by The Hill show that Don Benton, who led the EPA’s “beachhead” team of initial political appointees after Trump’s inauguration, requested 24/7 security for “at least” Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Court rejects new effort to stop kids' climate lawsuit | Baltimore is latest city to sue over climate change | EPA staffers worried about toxic chemical in Pruitt's desk Pruitt staffers worried about toxic chemical in his desk Andrew Wheeler must reverse damage to American heartland MORE’s first week of work, fearing Trump’s initial actions related to the EPA were “likely to stir up a hornet's nest.”

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“I have requested 24/7 protection for the new administrator for the first week at least and then evaluate from there. There will be several Executive Orders signed when he is sworn in that will likely stir the hornet’s nest,” Benton wrote in an email dated Feb. 11, 2017, to James Caldwell, a security official at the EPA, indicating that he had already made the request.

The email provides a window into how Pruitt came to be the first EPA head in history with a full-time security detail. Early Monday, the EPA’s inspector general confirmed in a letter that Pruitt had requested constant security before he even came to the agency, and he had the guards on his first day, despite recent statements Pruitt made that his expensive security was deemed necessary due to threats he received while working there.

Weeks after Pruitt was sworn in, Trump issued an executive order formally asking him to consider repealing the Obama administration's Clean Water Rule, which redefined the EPA's authority over small waterways. Pruitt has since proposed repealing it.

Later, in March, Trump signed a wide-ranging executive order on energy and environmental regulations. Its instructions included asking the EPA to reconsider the Clean Power Plan, which limited carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and another regulation limiting methane emissions from oil and natural gas drilling.

Benton left the EPA in April 2017, and Trump tapped him to lead the Selective Service System, the federal agency that maintains the database for a potential military draft.

Benton further justified his security request in the email exchange by citing a “security issue in the Atlanta office” the previous week and a woman who allegedly threatened former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyLawmakers rally to keep Pruitt from transparently restricting science EPA says it abandoned plan for office in Pruitt’s hometown Overnight Energy: Pruitt blames staff for controversies | Ex-Obama official to head new Harvard climate center | Electric vehicles on road expected to triple MORE but did not show up for a court date and was, according to Benton, “at large in DC.”

“It is best to be on the safe side,” Benton wrote.

Administration officials also discussed how best to provide the needed officers for a full-time detail.

In an email dated Feb. 9, Charles Cavanaugh, from the EPA’s criminal enforcement office, asked Eric Weese, then the head of the administrator’s security detail, what the costs would be for 24/7 coverage.

Weese responded that it was likely that everything — costs and manpower — would need to be doubled, resulting in a 16-person detail.

He suggested that the EPA would have to pull criminal investigators to pick up security shifts while the agency worked on hiring more staff, which he predicted would be “a major disruption” to the criminal division for the Mid-Atlantic region.

The security team has so far cost taxpayers an estimated $3 million.

Weese reportedly was later demoted to a more general position in the agency’s criminal investigation division after he resisted a request by Pruitt to use the emergency siren on his vehicle when he wanted to beat traffic. Pruitt denied to House lawmakers last month that any employee faced retaliation for questioning his requests.

The EPA declined to comment.

Pruitt has been plagued for months by a series of controversies related to his expenses and ethics. He's been chastised for costs associated with his security detail and first-class travel and received criticism for hefty staff salary raises and the commission of a $43,000 soundproof booth in his office.

He has also been sharply criticized for leasing a Capitol Hill condominium from the wife of a prominent energy lobbyist for $50 a night.