With questions mounting, Pruitt fights for his job

With questions mounting, Pruitt fights for his job
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As questions mount about his use of taxpayer funds and relationships with lobbyists, Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittTrump admin appeals ruling ordering EPA to ban pesticide Government watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels MORE’s future remains uncertain.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator is reportedly arguing his case for why he shouldn’t be the latest Cabinet secretary fired from the administration.

Pruitt met with President Trump on Friday, according to The Associated Press. Trump has expressed support for the job Pruitt is doing but pledged to “take a look” at the scandals.

Meanwhile, White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE is reportedly pushing for Pruitt to lose his job - and Pruitt doesn’t appear to have much support among lawmakers or other members of the administration, either.

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Here are the five big issues Pruitt likely needs to address in order to save his job.

Use of security detail

Pruitt’s security came with a heavy price for taxpayers. The EPA reportedly spent millions for Pruitt’s 20-member full-time security detail.

His detail — which is three times bigger than his predecessor’s — reportedly used up overtime budgets and sometimes took time away from officers who were investigating environmental crimes so they could protect the EPA chief.

Defenders say Pruitt faces more harassment than other EPA chiefs, which is how Pruitt has defended his travel costs as well. 

But Pruitt also reportedly wanted his security detail to use flashing lights and sirens, an accommodation usually reserved just for the president, to speed up his travel within Washington, D.C.

His security detail guarded him day and night and even accompanied him on family vacations when the EPA chief was in Oklahoma, The Associated Press reported.

Choice to take first-class flights

Pruitt faced intense criticism for using first-class air travel for official business, a choice he defended by saying that he has had negative interactions with other passengers while flying coach.

Most recently, however, it was reported that the EPA chief chose to fly coach on weekend trips to Oklahoma when taxpayers were not paying for his travel, according to an anonymous EPA official speaking to the AP.

His first-class flights cost more than $105,000 and his use of charter flights and military jets cost more than $58,000 in Pruitt's first year in office, Politico reported. His full-time security detail also reportedly flew first class.

Pruitt’s aides were also reported to have looked into leasing a private jet on a month-to-month basis last year but backed off when they learned it would cost roughly $100,000 a month.

Questions about travel costs have already plagued the administration. Last year, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceWhite House officials discussing potential replacements for FEMA chief: report Overnight Health Care: CBO finds bill delaying parts of ObamaCare costs B | Drug CEO defends 400 percent price hike | HHS declares health emergency ahead of hurricane HHS should look into Azar's close ties to the drug industry MORE resigned after reports that he had paid for private plane flights with taxpayer money.  

Renting a condo from lobbyists

The latest controversy to hit Pruitt is news he leased a condominium in Washington, D.C., last summer on a night-to-night basis for $50 a day from the wife of a top energy lobbyist.

While the setup isn’t unlawful, it presented a perception problem for a department which often has to go head-to-head with energy companies. Some see it as a "sweetheart deal" because of the low cost Pruitt paid.

The New York Times also reported that the client of the lobbyist linked to the condo got a project approved by the EPA last March.

While both the company and the EPA have said there was no wrongdoing, another shoe may yet drop. The EPA's top ethics official originally said the arrangement followed ethics rules, a decision Pruitt pointed to as proof he did nothing wrong. 

But the official, Kevin Minoli, later amended that opinion by saying he did not "have required factual information" to assess the entire situation. It is not clear whether Minoli plans to take another look.

High office expenses

Apart from spending on first-class air travel and a 20-man security detail, Pruitt has faced questions about large spending on office renovations.

Last year, the EPA spent nearly $9,000 for countersurveillance protections for Pruitt, according to The Associated Press. A private contractor was hired to ensure Pruitt’s office wasn’t bugged with hidden listening devices and biometric locks were installed on the doors.

Pruitt also reportedly had a $43,000 soundproof phone booth installed in his office and paid $2,000 to refurbish a desk many compared to the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.

This came after aides objected to a request to spend $70,000 to replace two desks in Pruitt’s office suite, one of which the head of Pruitt’s security detail insisted be upgraded to a bulletproof model, according to The New York Times.

Concern among aides

On Thursday, The New York Times reported that at least five EPA officials had been reassigned, demoted or requested new jobs after they raised concerns about Pruitt’s spending and management.

Their concerns covered everything that Pruitt has been most criticized for, including his air travel, request for security coverage and furniture spending.

Pruitt reportedly would get angry when such concerns were raised and retaliated against two career officials by moving them to jobs where they interacted less with him.

Another career official joined American University after being told to find a new job.

A political appointee — who was among the first people employed by the Trump campaign — was placed on leave without pay after flagging concerns about Pruitt to the White House’s presidential personnel office.

One of Pruitt's top advisers, Samantha Dravis, also resigned this week, although she denied that the decision was related to ongoing controversies.

But the Times also reports that Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, is frustrated and also considering resignation.

Pruitt is also under fire for approving raises for two of his top aides, despite the White House turning down the request. The move, which Pruitt denies he knew about and has since said he reversed, has reportedly gutted morale even further at the EPA, according to The Atlantic.

-Updated 12:32 p.m.