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How EPA chief Scott Pruitt has withstood so many allegations

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt faces new allegations of impropriety. On top of the dozen or more different federal investigations underway into Pruitt, it's alleged that he asked an aide to help his wife secure a high-paying job. William Brangham learns more from Jennifer Dlouhy of Bloomberg.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt, has been in the news yet again this week over new allegations of impropriety.

    William Brangham has this update.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    The latest allegation against the EPA chief is that he asked an aide to help his wife secure a high-paying job. This comes on top of the dozen or more different federal investigations under way into Scott Pruitt.

    Some are looking into his alleged lavish spending on travel and on personal security. He’s being investigated for abuse of power for allegedly retaliating against staffers who questioned his behavior. And other investigators are examining how he rented a bedroom in a Washington condo owned by the wife of an energy industry lobbyist at very favorable terms.

    Jennifer Dlouhy has been following all this for Bloomberg News, and she joins me now.

    Welcome to the NewsHour.

  • JENNIFER DLOUHY:

    Thank you.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    I should also say you are also the author of the very handy guide to the Scott Pruitt investigations that you can find on the Bloomberg Web site.

    So, so many investigations into Scott Pruitt right now. Can you tell us about this most recent allegation against him?

  • JENNIFER DLOUHY:

    Right.

    So, the latest disclosures really show — shed new light, frankly, on the extent to which Administrator Pruitt relied on his personal aides to do personal errands.

    Specifically, a former associate administrator told congressional investigators last week that Pruitt encouraged her to contact the Republican Attorney Generals Association, which is a group at which — where she and Pruitt both worked, and asked basically to encourage a job or to seek out a job for his wife.

    And that comes on top of these earlier allegations — or disclosures, rather, that aides for Pruitt contacted a Chick-fil-A executive to inquire about a franchise opportunity for Pruitt’s wife, and that she accepted a $2,000 payment from a Manhattan nonprofit group to work on a conference that Pruitt spoke at last year.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    And then there was also a recent allegation that he had retaliated against employees that had raised concerns about his behavior. What was the allegation there?

  • JENNIFER DLOUHY:

    Well, the concern is and the allegation really is that a number of employees found themselves shifted to other jobs or moved to other locations after they raised concerns about spending or questioned some of his other decision-making.

    And, actually, that’s the subject of a Current Office of Special Counsel probe. They’re looking into these allegations right now.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    I know it’s hard to keep track of all the different questions about his behavior and the different investigations.

    From your reporting, do you have a sense of which of these is the most severe for the administrator?

  • JENNIFER DLOUHY:

    My reporting indicates that many of these are, frankly, brushed aside by a number of his supporters.

    But what is concerning to the conservative supporters of this president that I’m talking to are these allegations about using the public office for personal gain. Partly, that’s because there are federal ethics rules that bar that kind of behavior. They bar that kind of self-enrichment, and they bar federal employees from seeking gifts from subordinates, one of the allegations here.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    So, if he was found — those are just flat-out illegal.

  • JENNIFER DLOUHY:

    Right. It’s a violation of these rules, yes.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    The cycle every time here is quite striking. New allegations emerge, Democrats call for his head, Republicans express concern, and yet the very next week he’s still on the job doing his job. How do you explain that he is still where he is?

  • JENNIFER DLOUHY:

    Right.

    Well, I think we have to look at how he got here. Frankly, this is a guy who won conservative acclaim in his previous role as Oklahoma’s attorney general for attacking the EPA. And he carried that same zeal into his current job as EPA administrator, where he is rolling back Obama era regulations governing climate change and air and water pollution.

    So, that’s obviously made him more durable in this administration. But top White House officials also say that they’re concerned about replacing him. Frankly, potential successors who can be confirmed by the narrowly divided Senate are unlikely to bring the same kind of enthusiasm to reining in the EPA’s authority or rolling back these rules.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    So, he’s just good at his job and they want to keep him in there for now?

  • JENNIFER DLOUHY:

    That seems to be the case.

    What is interesting is that the president has made a distinction increasingly in recent weeks between Pruitt’s performance at the EPA on EPA-related tasks and his personal behavior. So on one hand, the president just a few weeks ago said he’s doing a great job at the EPA, but he is not happy with these other disclosures.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    You wrote a story last week in Bloomberg News there was really fascinating that argued maybe these scandals won’t be what dents his career in the EPA, but a fight over biofuels might. Can you explain?

  • JENNIFER DLOUHY:

    Right.

    So what is interesting is that Pruitt is caught in the middle of some of these really deep disputes at the EPA. One of them is over the nation’s biofuel mandate. It requires renewable fuel to be used.

    He’s under pressure from corn state farmers and their allies in Congress, particularly Senator Chuck Grassley, to up the quotas essentially for using biofuel each year.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    It’s like ethanol, things like that in our gas.

  • JENNIFER DLOUHY:

    Exactly right. Right. Right.

    And, at the same time, refiners hate this mandate — or many of them dislike it deeply. And so allies for refiners, including Senator Ted Cruz and other oil state senators, are pushing Pruitt in the opposite direction.

    And it came to a head in recent weeks over some policy changes related to this biofuel program. Senator Grassley said he would call for Pruitt’s resignation if he didn’t support this mandate strongly in office.

    And, meanwhile, Senator Cruz through aides said he would also call for Pruitt’s resignation if he didn’t back off from some changes that refiners didn’t like.

    What this shows and what I think is interesting about this is, we tend to think of Pruitt’s — these allegations about Pruitt being very personal in nature. And here is a case where they are being used politically, and they are influencing policy decisions, or at least they’re being used as leverage by people who wish to do that, to do just that.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Jennifer Dlouhy, Bloomberg News, thank you so much.

  • JENNIFER DLOUHY:

    Thank you.

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