Trump says he has confidence in Pruitt
President Trump said Thursday he has confidence in embattled Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt.
“I do,” Trump said when asked before boarding Air Force One.
Later Thursday, while flying back from a West Virginia trip to talk about the GOP’s tax bill, Trump had more good things to say about Pruitt.
“I think he’s done a fantastic job. I think he’s done an incredible job. He’s been very courageous,” the president told reporters. “It hasn’t been easy, but I think he’s done a fantastic job.”
“You know, I just left coal and energy country. They love Scott Pruitt,” he said, referring to Pruitt’s pro-coal policies and efforts to repeal environmental rules. “They feel very strongly about Scott Pruitt. And they love Scott Pruitt.”
But Trump stopped short of indicating that Pruitt is completely in the clear.
Asked if he was concerned about the allegations against Pruitt, Trump said, “I have to look at them.”
“I’ll make that determination,” the president continued. “But he’s a good man, he’s done a terrific job. But I’ll take a look at it.”
The president and his allies have sent mixed signals about the standing of Pruitt, who is under fire for a growing number of missteps.
Administration officials were not pleased with a series of media interviews Pruitt gave on Tuesday and Wednesday in which he admitted no wrongdoing and blamed the controversies on his political opponents.
“I can’t speak to the future of Scott Pruitt,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told Fox News on Thursday, just hours before Trump gave the EPA chief a vote of confidence.
“I can just talk about where we are now and that is that the White House is aware of these reports and we’re obviously looking into those,” Gidley added.
Pruitt is facing an internal investigation and a congressional probe into low rent he paid on a Washington condo owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist. He paid only $50 for each night he slept at the Capitol Hill property, and let his adult daughter stay there too for a time period. But EPA officials have defended the arrangement and say it was above-board.
He is also under scrutiny for raises authorized for two of his top staffers and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent on travel.
Lawmakers in both parties are calling for Pruitt’s ouster over the scandals.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) said Tuesday that Pruitt’s “corruption scandals are an embarrassment to the Administration, and his conduct is grossly disrespectful to American taxpayers. It’s time for him to resign or for [Trump] to dismiss him.”
The administrator’s conservative allies have been standing up for him, telling Trump that Pruitt is one of the most effective allies in the Cabinet and that it would be difficult to replace him.
Pruitt embarked on a media tour to defend himself. But Fox News’s Ed Henry was combative in a 25-minute interview with a defensive Pruitt, asking how he could not have known about the controversial raises, among other topics.
Ethics controversies surrounding members of Trump’s Cabinet have become a headache for the Trump administration.
The president ousted Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin last week after a blistering internal report found that taxpayers picked up the bill for his wife to accompany him on a European business trip.
Later, aboard Air Force One as Trump was flying to West Virginia to tout the GOP’s tax reform law, Gidley said it will be clear if Trump’s mind changes on Pruitt.
“We all serve at the pleasure of the president. You guys know that. And when he’s not pleased, you’ll know it,” he told reporters. “Obviously reports are in the news that we’re aware of and we’re looking into, but the president himself said he has confidence, so that’s where we stand today.”
Gidley said he hasn’t discussed with Trump whether the president saw Pruitt’s recent media interviews, including the one on Fox News.
“And the president demands the highest levels of ethical standards for his entire staff, that includes Cabinet, and we expect him to adhere to that,” he said.
Updated at 5:12 p.m.
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