Well, this was awkward.
Amidst a sea of rising ethical disasters, EPA Chief Scott Pruitt admitted to Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) Wednesday that he already created a legal defense fund to help pay to fight the many spending and ethics investigations he faces.
“It has been set up,” Pruitt told the 13-member Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies about the fund.
Pruitt faces a litany of complaints born of behavior like charging the taxpayer for 24/7 security, which he said he needed but it turns out he demanded it the moment he started his job. Pruitt is also under fire for first-class travel, expensive office renovations, and ties to the industry he is supposed to be overseeing.
Watch the exchange during a a hearing meant to focus on the EPA’s 2019 budget here:
VAN HOLLEN: And the reality is that there are strong policy differences with lots of agency heads. I disagree with positions taken with now-Secretary Pompeo when he was the Director of Intelligence. But you are the only agency head to my knowledge to have anything close to – whether it’s 11 ongoing investigations or 16 investigations at the federal level… Here’s my question. With about 11 or 16 pending investigations, whatever it is, there have been reports that you intend to establish a legal defense fund. Is that true?
PRUITT: I understand that that’s being set up, yes.
VAN HOLLEN: So you’re in the process of setting that up?
PRUITT: It’s been set up.
VAN HOLLEN: Let me ask you this – will you print on the structure of your legal defense fund, the rules, will you make it clear that you will not accept anonymous donations? The Office of Legal Counsel at the White House, as you know, recommends strongly against any of these legal defense funds having anonymous donations. I’m asking if you’ll – as part of the rules of your legal defense fund – you will say you’re not going to accept anonymous donations?
PRUITT: Whatever discussion with GAO, White House Counsel’s yields in that regard we will follow.
VAN HOLLEN: So will you accept the recommendation of the White House Office of Legal Counsel with respect to the trust fund?
PRUITT: They already are.
VAN HOLLEN: So then you won’t be accepting anonymous donations or the rules won’t allow that.
Van Hollen established that not only is this legal defense fund set up, but that Pruitt is aware of the rules surrounding such a fund, for example the fact that the September 28, 2017 Legal Advisory by the United States Office of Government Ethics advises that legal defense fund “contributions shall not be accepted from anonymous sources.” This is now a matter of public record, and no doubt that will come in handy in the future.
After asking if Pruitt’s fund would accept anonymous donations, Van Hollen vowed to monitor the fund donations closely.
Pruitt’s controversies have resulted in at least 11 ongoing investigations by the EPA’s inspector general, congressional committees and the White House. Additionally, a Government Accountability Office probe found that Pruitt spending $43,000 on a soundproof phone booth without consulting lawmakers broke the law.
Republicans are trying to normalize what Pruitt is doing because they like how he gives big corporations all that they ask for in terms of revoking regulations that are meant to protect people, but Pruitt’s behavior and ethical problems and spending issues are not normal at all.
In regular times, any ONE of these would have been an administration scandal that could have undone the political will for other agenda items. In Trump times, this is barely a blip on the radar. As the Democratic Senator pointed out to Pruitt, while there have been policy disagreements in the past, “(Y)ou are the only agency head to my knowledge to have anything close to – whether it’s 11 ongoing investigations or 16 investigations at the federal level.”
The swampiest cabinet ever continues its race to the bottom.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.