WASHINGTON — Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt sought to distance himself Tuesday from his 2016 statements that presidential candidate Donald Trump is a bully who, if elected, would abuse the Constitution.
Pruitt made the comments in February 2016 while appearing on a conservative talk radio program in Oklahoma, where he served as the state’s Republican attorney general. At the time, Pruitt supported Jeb Bush for the GOP nomination.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse sought to use Pruitt’s own words against him during an oversight hearing and had an aide hold the quotes up on large signs. The Rhode Island Democrat’s office also released audio of Pruitt’s 2016 comments to talk radio host Pat Campbell.
Pruitt said he appeared on Campbell’s show several times, but could not recall making those specific comments about Trump, who appointed him a year later to lead EPA. Pruitt added that he now would not agree with his past comments.
Asked by Campbell if he was a Trump supporter, Pruitt replied “No, no.”
“I believe that Donald Trump in the White House would be more abusive to the Constitution than Barack Obama – and that’s saying a lot,” Pruitt said, according to a transcript released by Whitehouse’s office. “I think executive orders with Donald Trump would be a very blunt instrument with respect to the Constitution.”
As EPA administrator, however, Pruitt has cited executive orders signed by Trump as the basis for a wide array of policy changes rolling back and redrafting regulations limiting emissions of toxic heavy metals from coal-fired power plants. Environmentalists say those changes will lead to dirtier air and water.
In 2016, Pruitt agreed with Campbell when he quoted his father’s description of Trump as “dangerous,” calling the host’s father “very astute.”
“If Donald Trump is the nominee and eventually the president, he would take, I think unapologetic steps, to use executive power to confront Congress in a way that is truly unconstitutional,” Pruitt said.
Pruiit also agreed with a characterization of Trump as “our bully.”
“I think he has tendencies that we see in emerging countries around the world where – he goes to the disaffected – those individuals, Pruitt said. “And rule of law today – this president has done more to injure rule of law – he owes President Nixon an apology with respect to the use of executive power. But President Obama, we don’t need to replace him with another individual – as you said, our bully – in the White House, to do what he’s done from the Republican side of things.”