Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has been a controversial figure since he was appointed to that post.
But a new controversy broke out around him over Easter weekend that may bring an end to his tenure. It turns out that the townhouse that Pruitt lived in for much of his first year in Washington was owned by an LLC in turn co-owned by Vicki Hart, a lobbyist who works for the healthcare industry.
What is worse: Vicki Hart’s husband, J. Steven Hart, is the chairman of a lobbying firm (Williams & Jensen) that works for a number of clients in the energy industry, many of which may directly gain or lose as a consequence of EPA decisions.
After the news broke, the EPA’s in-house ethics officer, Kevin S. Minoli, issued a memo saying that this rental arrangement was not an ethics violation, in part because the daily arrangement works out to $1,500 a month, and that “is a reasonable market value.” By most assessments, that is simply not the case.
Right Wing View
In the initial round of reactions, Pruitt didn’t have a lot of defenders among his ideological allies on the right.
Such defense as he gets is expressed by a twitter denizen calling herself “Annie” who said that she hasn’t “read up” on the subject but she suspects the infraction “is a 1 and the outrage is a 10.”
Beyond that, the NeverTrumpers in conservative ranks are taking this opportunity to say “we told you so.” At RedState, Sarah Rumpf writes that “far too many of our elected officials are taking improper advantage of the system to personally enrich themselves” and that Pruitt has presented himself as a “perfect example of this problem.”
Even at Trump-friendly Breitbart, Pruitt isn’t getting much love. James Delingpole there writes that “the dismantling of the EPA … is a core part of Trump’s swamp-draining program – so clearly it mattered greatly that the Administration’s position should go to a capable, determined figure.” Unfortunately, Delingpole continues, it didn’t go to such a figure. It went to Pruitt.
The Pruitt scandal might turn out to fit nicely into one of the stories that conservatives, neocons in particular, like to tell about this administration. They might come to portray Pruitt as a sort of super-bureaucrat or as a politician captured by a wily bureaucracy, who comes in turn to undermine the revolution that brought him (Pruitt) into office. “From a system in which politicians exercised too much control through patronage, we have moved to one in which politicians exercise too little’ – is how Commentary Magazine puts it.
Left Wing View
Meanwhile on the left… on Vox, Umair Irfan writes that it isn’t Pruitt’s “personal indiscretions”: that ought to worry people, but his policy misdirection. His tenure at the EPA is responsible for a drastic slowdown in “the overall pace of work at an agency tasked with protecting the health of all Americans,” Irfan says.
Rep. Don Breyer (D-Va) calls the news of Pruitt’s use of the Hart condo a “major scandal.”
Walter Shaub, who was ethics director for four years under President Obama, said that the most likely argument in support of the propriety of the arrangement would be if Pruitt can argue that he has a long-standing personal relationship with the Harts, since then the below-market rent could be seen as a gift motivated by that relationship, rather than by some work-day quid pro quo.
Bess Levin, at Vanity Fair, says that Pruitt may qualify for the title of “most corrupt member of the administration,” although she also observes that “the competition has been fierce” for this award.”
A Strange Detail
The conflict-of-interest story gave some reporters an opportunity to insert a strange detail, i.e., the agents protecting Pruitt broke down the door to this condo on one occasion because they thought Pruitt was unconscious. (He was apparently just taking a nap.)
Taxpayers sprung for the damage to the door.