In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP

EPA’s Scott Pruitt buried under avalanche of scandals

The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/5/18, 9:00 PM ET

Icahn role shows common thread in Pruitt ethics, policy scandals

Rachel Maddow looks at the relationship between Donald Trump adviser Carl Icahn and EPA chief Scott Pruitt and how Icahn’s business interests intertwine with Pruitt’s ethics scandals and peculiar EPA policies.
Rachel Maddow looks at the relationship between Donald Trump adviser Carl Icahn and EPA chief Scott Pruitt and how Icahn’s business interests intertwine with Pruitt’s ethics scandals and peculiar EPA policies.
The funny thing is, Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s far-right EPA chief, was plagued by serious controversies  before last week. Now, of course, the Oklahoma Republican’s ethical and legal crises have reached an entirely new level.

The Washington Post did a nice job summarizing several key reasons the EPA administrator’s career is in so much jeopardy: Pruitt stands accused of corruption, misusing public resources, and several abuses of power, and the evidence to bolster the claims is, at least for now, largely uncontested.

That list, however, isn’t comprehensive – it doesn’t include the EPA chief’s brazen dishonesty about some of his messes. Pruitt claimed, for example, that his lobbyist landlord didn’t have any business before the EPA. That wasn’t true. He also claimed that his sweetheart-deal lease was approved by ethics officials, but those same officials now say they didn’t have all of the pertinent details. He also claimed he had nothing to do with giving dubious raises to his top aides, but was apparently lying about that, too.

What’s more, as Rachel explained on the show last night, there’s no need to separate Pruitt’s on-the-job failings with his ethics scandals, since his relationship with former Trump regulatory czar Carl Icahn helps show that the two areas are intertwined.

Meanwhile, the number of congressional Republicans calling for Pruitt’s ouster is now up to three – which is an underwhelming number given the circumstances, but which is better than zero.

Under normal circumstances, the far-right EPA chief would not only be fired, he’d also be shopping around for a good defense attorney. The question, however, is what the president intends to do with Pruitt. The issue came up yesterday when Trump chatted briefly with reporters on Air Force One.

Q: How are you feeling about Scott Pruitt, Mr. President? Is he –

TRUMP: I think he’s done a fantastic job at EPA. I think he’s done an incredible job. He’s been very courageous. Hasn’t been easy, but I think he’s done an absolutely fantastic job. I think he’ll be fine.

Asked about the latest reports on Pruitt’s controversies, the president said he’d “have to look at it,” before adding that his EPA administrator has done a “terrific job” and a “great job.”

So, what happens now?

Option #1: Pruitt’s toast

Given everything we’ve learned about Trump World, it’s a safe bet that the president doesn’t much care about the merits of the allegations against Pruitt. For that matter, the fact that the EPA chief is accused of widespread corruption and shameless lying probably won’t phase Trump, since he’s accused of the same things.

That said, as Tom Price’s scandal last year helped prove, the White House gets annoyed with embarrassing distractions. For that matter, there’s been no real pushback against the substance of the claims against Pruitt, probably because he’s actually done the things he’s accused of doing. For these reasons, it’s easy to believe the EPA administrator should spend today updating his resume.

Option #2: Pruitt’s safe

I heard from a Capitol Hill staffer yesterday who reminded me that Republicans not only love Pruitt because he’s unraveling environmental safeguards, they also want him to stick around because confirming his successor – in an election year and in a 51-49 Senate – would create an incredible headache.

This, coupled with Trump’s indifference to Pruitt’s apparent wrongdoing, and Pruitt’s pro-pollution successes, suggest the EPA chief will stick around and wait for the storm to blow over. It doesn’t hurt that Pruitt has influential friends – top lobbyists, prominent Republican senators, conservative media – vouching for him.

Or as Pruitt’s boss put it yesterday, “I think he’ll be fine.”

EPA and Scandals

EPA's Scott Pruitt buried under avalanche of scandals