May 16, 2018, 1:03 PM ET

Dems slam Pruitt on 24/7 security, say it's a 'silly reason' to fly first-class


Democrats slammed Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt Wednesday over new and persisting questions about his conduct and spending since taking over at the agency, including his costly 24-hour security detail and rental arrangement in a Capitol Hill townhouse connected to lobbyists.

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Pruitt was asked about recent reports about his actions at the agency in a hearing before a Senate appropriations subcommittee. He is already under multiple investigations into the cost of his security detail, travel, pay raises for aides, alleged retaliation against whistleblowers, and his time renting a condo in a Capitol Hill townhouse connected to lobbyists.

More than 300 former EPA officials wrote to the EPA's inspector general on Wednesday calling for him to expedite the investigations because they are concerned the scandals have "compromised the agency's mission," according to a copy of the letter released by the Environmental Integrity Project.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee's Ranking Member, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., quoted a constituent who said Pruitt’s explanation for flying in first class as a security precaution a "silly reason.”

"Incidentally a Vermonter said "what a silly reason you had to fly first class because of a danger to you unless you flew first class. He said nobody even knows who you are and you go in there where somebody might criticize you," Leahy said.

More than half of the committee members did not attend the hearing but that did not stop Democrats like the subcommittee's ranking member Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., from lamenting the constant barrage of scandals at the agency and launching strongly-worded attacks on Pruitt’s conduct.

"Your tenure at the EPA is a betrayal of the American people,” Udall told Pruitt.

PHOTO: Protesters hold signs as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies during a Senate Appropriations Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2018.Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Newscom
Protesters hold signs as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies during a Senate Appropriations Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2018.

Pruitt confirmed Wednesday that a legal defense fund has been set up on his behalf and said that he will follow the proper procedures for the fund, including not accepting money from industries that have business before the EPA.

In response to the criticism of his spending and other decisions at the agency, Pruitt repeated some of the defense he gave in testimony before House committees last month.

Pruitt deflected some of his spending decisions as a result of problems with the process at EPA, adding that he has instituted a new rule requiring additional approval for expenditures more than $5,000.

"There have been some decisions over the last 16 or so months that, as I look back on those decisions, I wouldn't make the same decisions again," Pruitt said.

Udall asked Pruitt why he hasn't responded to questions about his living arrangement in a condo connected to J. Stephen Hart, the former chairman of Williams & Jensen whose wife co-owned a condo where Pruitt lived during his first year in Washington. It was recently reported that Hart emailed the EPA about nominees for an advisory board even though that was not previously disclosed.

Pruitt said that Hart was not registered as lobbying EPA for his firm at the time and cited the decisions from EPA ethics officials that the condo did not constitute an inappropriate gift because it matched other market rates. Those officials have also said that their statements about the deal only applied to whether it was a gift and not if it was a conflict of interest.

"Mr. Hart was a lobbyist and you rented a room from him and you had issues pending before your agency at the time that Hart's firm was working on. To me, that is just the exact swamp that President Trump was trying to get rid of and all of these questions I have been asking about is this swampy behavior that is going on here," Udall said.

The subcommittee's chair Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, asked Pruitt about several policy issues impacting her state but also said that he needs to address some of the swirling questions around his conduct.

"Instead of being asked about the work that you are doing on WOTUS, or the Clean Power Plan, or the Superfund program I’m being asked, really constantly asked, to comment on security on housing or on travel," Murkowski said in her opening statement.

Udall also pressed Pruitt about reports that he told his security detail to use lights and sirens to help him get through Washington, DC, traffic.

Pruitt said he "did not recall" any instance like that and that his security detail followed agency procedure for using lights and sirens. Udall submitted an email from the former head of the EPA security detail that seemed to contradict that statement.

“Administrator encourages the use,” an email from Pasquale “Nino” Perotta read under the subject line, “Lights and Sirens.”

That email was released by Democrats on a different Senate committee with oversight of EPA in a letter to the agency's inspector general asking for an investigation into Perrotta.

Six Democrats on that committee called for Pruitt to testify, saying that a new letter from the inspector general directly contradicts his previous testimony to two House subcommittees.

In that letter to Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., on Monday the EPA's internal watchdog said Pruitt requested a 24/7 security detail before his first day at the agency.

Udall and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D- Md., asked Pruitt to explain that letter. Both Van Hollen and Pruitt read from the document but Pruitt insisted that the decision was made by his security detail and that he did not request it.

"I can only say senator I did not decide, direct that decision to be made," Pruitt said.

Van Hollen said that the document shows that the security team was directed to increase security for Pruitt, not that it determined the upgraded security was necessary.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., asked about a report in Politico earlier this week that officials from EPA, DOD, and the White House asked HHS to delay a report on the safety of a chemical that is present in drinking water supplies across the country, known as PFAS or PFOS chemicals.

The story cited emails from a White House official that would reportedly have said that the chemical is dangerous at much lower levels than currently recommended and referred to is as a "public relations nightmare."

Pruitt said the agency is having a summit on these chemicals and said he supports having the information in the public and taking action to clean up these chemicals.

"I was not aware there had been some holding back the report, I think it’s important to have all information out there in the marketplace," Pruitt said.

In a press conference after the hearing, Udall said that Democrats will continue to put pressure on Pruitt, even if Pruitt is "being protected" by Republicans.

News - Dems slam Pruitt on 24/7 security, say it's a 'silly reason' to fly first-class

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  • My Mother Said

    "But, but, but I need protection or somebody might be mean to me!" Dweeb!

  • brian nrndss

    double waste? do you know why

  • dancer92136

    Why is it that so many of Trump's appointees need security? I remember a day when only the President, VP and their immediate family required security. I appear that if you are part of team Trump you have to have it or is it a demand?...a status thing?

  • WorkingClass

    Just fire him already! You have plenty of cause.

  • AlexaGuyer

    Who does he think he is? No one knows who he is, he doesn't need 24/7 security or has to travel first class or private. He has a very inflated view of his own self, gee, I wonder where he gets that from?

  • Stephen Bishop

    Pruitt thinks he's the World Emperor.

  • 3CallFinagle

    Someone should remind him that he is NOT in the line of succession to the presidency.

  • Lee Thompson

    What a little coward . . . 24/7 security my behind.

  • John Galt

    Hey we all need 24/7 security. They come in handy when your landlord locks you out, Pruitt just has them kick down the door and send the bill to the taxpayers.

  • 777abc

    Pruitt seems quite "unaware" of many things going on in the agency HE is supposed to be leading. Hmmmm.

  • TomK

    Unfortunately his goal was to compromise the agency's mission so he's a star in Trump's eyes.

  • HadEnoughYet

    So obviously Pruitt knows this is a waste of money seeing how he intentionally lied to the public on why he requested such security.

  • HadEnoughYet

    If there is a DC "swamp", how can Trumpsters not see that this guy has to be the biggest creature in that swamp?

    Full blinders?

  • James Cameron

    "No one knows who you are [Pruit]!" Lol. That's true, but OUCH.

  • Chancy

    Meanwhile most Americans (I suspect even a few hard core tRump supporters) are asking Congress, "What the **** is taking you so long to dump this pathetic excuse of an EPA head!" Considering all the huffing and puffing this dotard is doing and the ever so common usage of "I don't recall" that seems to be popular among those who are lying, this mutton head should have been toss out on the street a few months ago. He is virus eroding our environment and all these Freedom Caucus minions seem to enjoy the cesspool he is building.

  • MAGreenA

    Lock up Pruitt! Get ready folks Trump appointed Mitch McConnel's brother-in-law to be the head of pension reform (annihilation).

  • Krimson

    'We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning'

  • George286

    Detest Pruitt, but to put this in perspective we would have to know what threats he has to justify why he needs this presidential level of security versus the last director, soundproof rooms, bodyguards. What? And shouldn't the Secret Service be making these decisions anyhow? Sorry but Leahy's observation about first class is inane, because it is a sequestered defensible by bodyguards area of an aircraft (Duh) and if some people are trying to harm him they would certainly recognize him. There is no way to determine if any of this is reasonable without knowing what the threats are though.

  • Your Worst Nightmare

    I have to disagree. I think the second most hated man in America needs 24/7 security. I don't have to tell you that the one in first place already has 24/7 security.

  • Derick Belick

    Who would have thought that Democrats would be conservative about unnecessary spending.

  • Erik Knight

    Another Trump appointee who (BTW he is totally unqualified to be head of the EPA), abuses his power, wastes tax payers' money, and lies. That must be why Trump keeps him.

  • Middling

    Based on the comments here, no one in American approves of Trump's choice for the EPA.

  • John Springer

    I think , given the rancid atmosphere of the resistors, he is entirely justified. He has been accosted trying to fly, threatened, stalked , etc

  • mik8888

    Everyday now, there is testimony and documents that directly contradict Pruitt's statements before the committee...the conduct and spending alone should call for a vote on this guy...

  • celtlady

    Pruitt needs to be fired. He is a waste of money and a determent to the environment.

  • Curmudgathrope

    I have not seen anything spelled out anywhere, and at least would like to see the real end results that pruitt is facing on each possible charge he is facing. Is there a possibility of actual charges? Could he be facing jail time? Can he be made to re-pay at least some of the cash that has been squandered? Seriously, I would like to see all of this spelled out, and if he actually faces consequences. Going a step further - just from reading, there are a great many on the committees that are obfuscating and muddying the waters. These people are high on my list of Vote Them Out. Hope I am not alone in at least that regard.

  • Juggles

    901 days, 11 hours and 41 minutes to go until we can clean this mess up....

  • Alex

    The Trump Administration uses the size of your security detail as a status symbol, that's it. It doesn't matter if it's needed or just a waste of taxpayer money, the more security you have the more important you are.

  • ohyes2011

    If this was a dem; trump would be tweeting about it daily.

  • Solanum

    Pruitt has a Napoleon complex.

  • RedSoxPatriotsCelticsBruinsFan

    What a moron, wants the security to use their sirens and lights when he travels by car. We need security from this guy.

  • FlaGirl

    Pruitt is a SWAMP CREATURE!

  • Bronx

    While this Pruitt scandal is very severe,

    withregard to scandals, this from (Paste 5-15-18) "Trump's Surrender to China On ZTE Sanctions Is His Most Corrupt Scandal Yet"

    This ZTE scandal got a few hours of coverage but it deserves a second Special Prosecutor to look into it and the final 'resting place' of the 500 million that supposedly went to the Trump Organization in Indonesia.

    Suddenly Trump who ran on a platform of "saving American jobs" fires the cybersecurity czar
    and beats his chest about saving Chinese jobs at a company known for making telecommunications
    equipment designed to spy on us. Equipment so dangerous to us it isn't allowed in, and the company was sanctioned.

  • Wrecking Ball

    In regards to the American people being sick of the status quo and wanting to clean up DC, what we've done here with Trump and his kin is right up there with an alcoholic trying to quit drinking, but to start the process we've binged hard to help hit rock bottom and bring everything back into focus. Lordy, I hope that's what's happening.

  • doubledouble

    Abusing taxpayers dollars is not the only crime here. The real crime is the reversal of the EPA’s mission statement as well as Pruitt’s systemic neutering of the environment in favour of big business. He is supposed to be in charge of sustainability of the environment- not Exxon Mobile.
    He’s knee deep in the swamp all right, but the real problem is the swamp thing that tweets this administration’s policies

  • pfon71361

    As long as Scott Pruitt keeps inundating the EPA's budget and regulations President Trump will likely tolerate the profoundly negative press. The fact that this EPA head has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on first-class airfare and personal security, most notably a $43,000.00 privacy "booth", would seem like small change to a president who famously hires other people to count his money. Most would consider that $50.00 a night "market rate" luxury pad Scott rented from an energy industry lobbyist as a really unbelievable deal but Trump says any criticism is just sour grapes. Scott Pruitt's EPA seems to be only capable of fostering the very "swamp" that the president promised would be drained.

  • Wrecking Ball

    This man needs to be placed in prison asap.

  • Joseph Wisgirda

    Pruitt's actions are done with the tacit approval of the White House.
    Let's be frank here - these people really don't care if we get sick and die, as long as Big Money gets a blank check ..... they represent a clear and present danger to the health and continued existence of our species.

    All so some rich bast### can make more money he will never spend, the rest of us will become sick from the filth he creates and pours into the waterways we drink from and into the air we breathe.
    You would think a devout man would make preserving God's kingdom and creating policies to sustain human life his top priority. The problem is that Pruitt is not really devout - he is a fake Christian, the kind Jesus would have chased out of the temple with a whip. He uses faith to manipulate others into doing his - very secular - bidding. He is helping destroy the biosphere and is ushering along this world into a phase where it will no longer support human life. His greed is killing us.
    What we all know, but don't talk about, is that the extra security is there because Pruitt knows exactly what he is doing. He knows that one of us IS GOING TO rise up against him and do the right thing in order to ensure the survival of our species.

  • AlexaGuyer

    You see, this is what happens when you have a leader with extremely low self-esteem; he hires those that he considers beneath him. Then those lower tier people seem to think that they are better than they really are and are entitled to things they are not. “Nobody even knows who you are," Leahy added. I'm sure that frosted Pruitt's cake.

  • Former Earthling

    In any other Administration this man would have been canned long ago or maybe even put in prison.

  • jimrussell

    Ah, the definition of a slithering, slimy, swamp critter.

  • Dave

    It is time to send this Bozo packing.

  • Devoted to USA

    Pruitt, Ben Carson, Mnuchin, Zenke, all engaged in abuse of power while ripping off Tax payers in other words, stealing, from us.
    Congress over - run by Republicans should be ashamed of not taking action.

    When I was a Republican, decades ago, Republicans were honest and respected;
    But Not now.

  • John bailey

    This is a story that does not need to be a story. trump is a master at self inflicted wounds.

  • tet1953

    He had better hope he is gone before we get a dem majority. Lying to Congress is never a good idea.

  • 777abc

    Complete and total waste of time if regardless of what the answers are, congress plans to do nothing about it. It's quite apparent Pruitt has carte blanche with the checkbook and decision making at the EPA.