The Pruitt Watch (Peat Fire)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of 'Lucifer', by Franz von Stuck, 1890.

While the idea of a rioting dumpster fire experienced brief vogue among media commentators trying to describe the Donald Trump presidency, the slowburning, filthy corruption of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt seems to describe something akin to a peat fire. The lede from the New York Times:

Since moving to Washington, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has attracted the attention of federal investigators because of his unusual association with lobbyists, including his rental of a condominium last year owned by the wife of a lobbyist with business before the E.P.A.

As a state senator in Oklahoma 15 years ago, Mr. Pruitt went even further: He bought a home in the state capital with a registered lobbyist who was pushing for changes to the state’s workers’ compensation rules—changes that Mr. Pruitt championed in the legislature.

And as with the condominium rental in Washington, Mr. Pruitt never publicly disclosed his financial relationship with the lobbyist, who, like Mr. Pruitt, lived in the home when in Oklahoma City on business.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, on Capitol Hill, 26 April 2018, in Washington D.C. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)But if for some reason the Pruitt Watch seems frustrating, or even verges toward incomprehensible, perhaps the striking report from The Atlantic suggests a flashpoint:

As Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt faces a seemingly endless stream of scandal, his team is scrambling to divert the spotlight to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. And the White House isn’t happy about it.:

In the last week, a member of Pruitt’s press team, Michael Abboud, has been shopping negative stories about Zinke to multiple outlets, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the efforts, as well as correspondence reviewed by The Atlantic.

“This did not happen, and it’s categorically false,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.

To the other, an unnamed White House official claiming knowledge of the situation explained: “Absolutely nothing Scott Pruitt did would surprise me.” And, yes, that last might as well include, the prospect of the EPA Administrator simply persisting and enduring, though the article did not.

And because a peat fire is the sort of phenomenon to just keep smoldering, the new pinstick scandal-whiff of the day comes from CNN:

A CNN analysis has found that embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt paid himself nearly $65,000 in reimbursements from his two campaigns for Oklahoma attorney general, a move at least one election watchdog has sharply criticized as being recorded so vaguely that there was no way to tell if such payments were lawful.

The reimbursement method, which Pruitt used in his 2010 and 2014 campaigns, effectively scuttled two key pillars of campaign finance: transparency about how campaign funds are spent and ensuring campaign funds are not used for personal purchases, according to a former top elections attorney and a CNN review of the documents.

Some of the reporting may also violate Oklahoma campaign finance rules, according to research done by the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group.

This is not some simple manner of draining the Swamp; television doctors notwithstanding, diagnosing the EPA Administrator’s extraordinary stamina is a very unpretty mystery:

There are, to be sure, competing explanations. One could make a very credible case that the right—lawmakers, donors, conservative media, et al—still likes Pruitt and his regressive environmental agenda, so the White House feels some pressure to leave him where he is. One could also argue, on a related note, that much of the criticisms of Pruitt’s apparent corruption is coming from journalists and good-government advocates, and the Trump World clearly doesn’t much care what they think. In fact, Pruitt keeps flattering and agreeing with the president, further cementing his status on the team.

Others have noted, accurately, that this president has a high tolerance for corruption, which means Trump simply doesn’t see Pruitt’s antics as a problem. Of course, there’s also the practical considerations to consider: maybe Trump doesn’t want to see the EPA chief go because the White House realizes that confirming his successor would be extremely difficult.


Which is what it is, but where Donald Trump is compared to a temper tantrum dumpster fire, the rising heat around the smoldering peat bog of Scott Pruitt’s detritus is precisely the sort of toxic pollution and flaming spectacle Republicans require in order to fulfill their promise that government does not and cannot work.

Last week, lawmakers grilled Pruitt for renting a ridiculously cheap luxury condo from the wife of a lobbyist trying to get EPA approval for a client’s project. They asked why he reassigned investigators of criminal violations of environmental laws to his personal security detail.

It was all about the “appearance” of corruption. But the truth is that these petty corruptions pale in comparison to Pruitt’s actual policy record at the EPA.

The EPA is a science agency. It’s supposed to consult closely with scientists and base its decisions on rigorous evidence. While adherence to this principle has never been perfect, under Pruitt’s leadership it’s been trashed beyond recognition.


And when all is said and done, this will have been the point; this is why we must suffer and bear witness to the #trumpswindle; this is #WhatTheyVotedFor.


Image notes: Top — Detail of Lucifer, by Franz von Stuck, 1890.  Right — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, on Capitol Hill, 26 April 2018, in Washington D.C. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Benen, Steve. “48 hours that should (but probably won’t) end Scott Pruitt’s career”. msnbc. 2 May 2018.

Plott, Elaina. “A Pruitt Aide’s Attack on Zinke Angers the White House”. The Atlantic. 3 May 2018.

Sen, Basav. “Commentary: Impeach Scott Pruitt for Dismantling the EPA, Not His First-Class Flights”. Fortune. 3 May 2018.

Tabuchi, Hiroko and Steve Eder. “Pruitt’s Coziness With Lobbyists Includes Secretly Buying a House With One”. The New York Times. 3 May 2018.

Wallace, Gregory and Sara Ganim. “Pruitt reimbursed himself $65,000 from Oklahoma attorney general campaign”. CNN. 4 May 2018.

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