When EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was forced to resign in disgrace over the summer, he left under unusually ugly circumstances. As regular readers may recall, the Oklahoma Republican, tapped to lead an agency whose mission he opposed, was the subject of 15 federal investigations and stood accused of being one of the most corrupt cabinet officials in modern history.
Pruitt may no longer be a member of Donald Trump’s cabinet, but Pruitt’s controversies are ongoing. E&E News, which covers the energy sector, reported yesterday on a new Pruitt disclosure: billionaire Republican donor Diane Hendricks apparently gave the former EPA chief $50,000 for his legal defense fund.
Pruitt set up the fund as he battled with ethics allegations that eventually led to his resignation from EPA. The report, also known as his termination report, covers Pruitt’s finances for the 2018 calendar year up to his departure from the agency in early July.
Included on the report is a note from Justina Fugh, a senior EPA ethics official, saying Pruitt did not seek ethics advice from EPA before accepting the contribution from Hendricks. In addition, “EPA ethics officials did not know of this contribution – believed to be in cash – until they received the termination report.”
It’s worth emphasizing that “cash” can have different meanings depending on context. In corporate mergers, for example, we’ll often see references to “cash,” but it doesn’t refer to literal paper currency.
That said, if the scandal-plagued EPA administrator received $50,000 “in cash” from a billionaire Republican donor, that seems like the sort of thing the authorities should examine in some detail.
There’s a temptation to think resignations resolve controversies. Scott Pruitt was in hot water; he faced questions that were awfully tough to answer; and so he had no choice but to exit the stage. At that point, our attention shifts to others who also find themselves in untenable positions.
But that’s not how accountability should work. Pruitt’s resignation was welcome, but there should still be an accounting of his actions, if for no other reason than to serve as a deterrent for other cabinet members who try to play by their own set of rules.