Even Fox News Is Fed Up With EPA Chief Scott Pruitt

As scandals mount, some Republican members of Congress are calling for his resignation

By Heather Smith

April 5, 2018

Yesterday, EPA chief Scott Pruitt made an appearance on Fox News to do some damage control over an exposé in the Atlantic that revealed Pruitt had used an obscure provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act to give pay raises to two aides. The aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, were part of the small group of staffers known as Pruitt’s “Oklahoma posse”—they traveled with Pruitt to Washington, D.C., from Oklahoma, where he was the notorious EPA-suing attorney general.

After staffers from the Presidential Personnel Office (or PPO) dismissed Pruitt’s request in early March that Greenwalt’s salary be raised from $107,435 to $164,200 and Hupp’s from $86,460 to $114,590, both women quit their jobs and were rehired at exactly the salaries Pruitt had requested with no change in job description. This was accomplished using a provision designed to allow the EPA to hire outside experts without having to ask the White House or Congress for permission first.

The video of Pruitt explaining this happenstance is television news at its finest and will easily be its own song and dance number should anyone ever write “Scott Pruitt: The Musical.”

Ed Henry,  chief national correspondent for Fox News: If you’re committed to the Trump agenda, why did you go around the White House and the president to give pay raises?

Scott Pruitt: I did not. My staff did, and I found out about it yesterday and I changed it. PPO process should have been respected. I put out a statement walking back those pay raises that should not— 

EH: [cuts him off] So is somebody being fired for that?

SP: It should not have been done.

EH: So who did it?  

SP: There will be some accountability.

EH: A career person or a political person? 

SP: I don’t know.

EH: You don’t know? You run the agency. You don’t know who did this?

SP: I found out about this yesterday, and I corrected the action. 

EH: Both of these staffers who got pay raises are friends of yours, I believe from Oklahoma, right?

SP: They are staffers here from the agency. 

EH: And they’re friends of yours.

SP: They serve a very important person here.

EH: And you didn’t know they got these pay raises.

SP: I didn’t know they got the pay raises until yesterday.

EH: One of them got a pay raise of—let’s see—$28,000. The other was $56,000. Do you know what the median income in this country is?

SP: I don’t know.

EH: $56,000 a year. One of your friends from Oklahoma got a pay raise. That’s the median income—

SP: [interrupting] They did not get a pay raise.

EH: They did.

SP: They did not. I stopped that yesterday.

EH: Are you embarrassed that—you run this agency?


Compare this to the appearance that Pruitt made earlier this year on the Fox show Justice With Judge Jeanine.

Jeanine Pirro: I must tell you yesterday that the president at CPAC was so proudly saying, “We’ve ended the war on beautiful clean coal and our miners have been mistreated, but they’re not being mistreated anymore.

And he talked about the deregulatory efforts. You have been a big part of this, and all of this is spurring the economy! You know, a lot of people don’t know what the EPA chief administrator does that benefits people like coal miners!

Scott Pruitt: The president talked about it tonight in your interview—the importance of the degregulatory agenda. When you think about the last year—$8 billion in cost savings with the deregulatory effort, administration-wide. In our agency alone, a billion dollars of cost savings.

The last administration, Jeanine, looked at regulatory action as almost a way to pick winners and losers. To pick on certain sectors of our economy.

You mention one—the war on coal. I was in Pennsylvania, as I’m sure you know.

JP: Yes! We have video of this! I can’t wait to see this! This is you, I believe, in a coal mine! Talk to us about this!

SP: Yes! First administrator in history to go underground. A thousand feet down and three miles in. I was talking to some longwall miners; you see them there. I delivered the president’s message to them, that the war on coal was over.

You should have seen the emotion on their faces, Jeanine. [camera pans across impassive faces of miners]


Pruitt may be, as he puts it, a “very important person,” but it’s getting harder and harder for him to reconcile his budget-cutting, saving-America-billions public persona with his apparently unquenchable ardor for spending taxpayer money. Pruitt has made the EPA pay an energy lobbyist $2,460 for a new door after Pruitt’s security detail broke it down (while looking for Pruitt, who was taking a nap); $120,000 for a trip to Italy that included a private tour of the Vatican; $43,000 for a soundproof "privacy booth" inside his office to prevent eavesdropping on his phone calls; $5,656.75 to have locks installed that can read fingerprints; $3,000 to have his office swept for hidden listening devices; over $168,000 on air travel in just his first year in office; and at least $2 million a year on a 24-hour private security detail that accompanies him even when he goes on vacation to Disneyland (that’s just for salaries—not the ancillary costs of Pruitt bringing them everywhere).

Scott Pruitt’s dirty dealings put us in danger. Rollbacks of the EPA's clean car standards are just the latest example of him choosing corporate polluters over our health. He is unfit to lead. #BootPruitt!

Many of the people assigned to Pruitt’s security detail were hired by the EPA to investigate complex environmental cases, not serve as bodyguards, so reassigning them likely also comes with fewer fines and other penalties from polluters. Interactions between the security detail and Pruitt have not always gone smoothly. After Pruitt began at the EPA, one 16-year agency veteran was reassigned from the security team after refusing to let Pruitt turn on an emergency vehicle siren in order to cut through D.C. traffic (Pruitt ultimately won out and used the siren to travel to locations like Le Diplomat, a fancy French restaurant). Pruitt also clashed with EPA employees who tried to rein in his spending habits, like Kevin Chmielewski, a Trump administration appointee who blocked a proposal to buy Pruitt a $100,000-a-month charter aircraft membership and to spend $70,000 to replace two desks in Pruitt's office suite. Mysteriously, Chmielewski was placed on administrative leave without pay not long after.

Pruitt has racked up an impressive roster of scandals: lying during his confirmation hearing about using a private email address to conduct as Oklahoma’s attorney general, hiring his former banker (banned from the banking industry for life for violating federal banking laws) to advise Pruitt on toxic waste cleanup, getting chummy with several of the American Petroleum Institute’s board of directors at the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., renting a Capitol Hill condo for him and his daughter from the wife of an energy lobbyist at a grossly discounted rate

But he has, so far, been exempt from the purges that have plagued other White House appointees, largely because he’s still doing what he was appointed to do. Which is to continue the collaboration with energy lobbyists that characterized his time as Oklahoma’s attorney general, kneecap environmental regulations, and outsource the cost of pollution to regular Americans who may or may not have health insurance.

Earlier this week, CNN reported, Trump was still considering replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Pruitt, but yesterday at a press conference, Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to say if Pruitt will have a job next week. “I can’t speak to the future of Scott Pruitt,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told Fox News today.

Two Republican lawmakers have already called for Pruitt to step down. “Major policy differences aside,” wrote Representative Carlos Curbello on Twitter,@EPAScottPruitt's corruption scandals are an embarrassment to the administration, and his conduct is grossly disrespectful to American taxpayers. It's time for him to resign or for @POTUS to dismiss him.”