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As scandals pile up for EPA's Pruitt, Trump signals indifference

Donald Trump vowed to look "very closely" at the scandals surrounding the EPA's Scott Pruitt. Evidently, the president has finished his careful analysis.
US President Donald Trump walks after arriving on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, April 28, 2017.

As corruption allegations piled up last week against EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, reporters asked Donald Trump about whether he's concerned. The president said his far-right EPA chief is doing a "fantastic job," and "incredible job," a "terrific job," and a "great job."

As for the series of allegations, Trump added, "I want to look at it.... I'll take a look at it very closely."

Since then, Pruitt's troubles have, if anything, intensified. The day after the president's comments, the Associated Press published a brutal report on the Oklahoma Republican's abusive spending habits, including the fact that he flew coach, but only when taxpayers weren't picking up the tab. Politico added that Pruitt overstayed his welcome with his lobbyist landlords, to the point that they "changed their locks."

And yet, the president has apparently completed his "very close" analysis and determined that Pruitt is in the clear. Here's Trump's tweet from the weekend:

"While Security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA. Record clean Air & Water while saving USA Billions of Dollars. Rent was about market rate, travel expenses OK. Scott is doing a great job!"

To the extent that reality matters, Trump's overly forgiving refutation of some of the allegations Pruitt is facing doesn't stand up especially well to scrutiny. The EPA chief's security spending is vastly more expensive, for example, not "somewhat." The existence of the death threats is also suspect.

The rent at the lobbyist's Capitol Hill home, meanwhile, was not "about" market rate, and the first-class travel expenses for Pruitt and several members of his team are plainly indefensible.

I'm not altogether sure what "record clean Air & Water" is supposed to mean.

But even putting the details aside, what we're left with is a president who appears alarmingly indifferent to brazen corruption.

Pruitt is facing credible allegations of, among other things, misusing public resources, abusing his power, and lying about it. It's probably why Trump was reportedly advised by his own White House chief of staff to oust the EPA chief from his post.

But the president doesn't seem to care. He seems aware of the seriousness of the claims, but Trump nevertheless seems willing to tolerate the suspected violations of the public trust.

And he's not alone. On NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, Chuck Todd asked Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) whether he thinks Pruitt should remain in his position. "I do," the South Dakotan said, "because he's following through with the policies that the president said he wanted to implement."

Of course, by this reasoning, officials throughout the Trump administration can engage in almost limitless corruption, and so long as they're following through on Trump's wishes, and they're not literally incarcerated, members of Congress such as Mike Rounds would simply shrug their shoulders. (Rounds added in the same interview that people shouldn't "nitpick little things.")

On CBS's "Face the Nation," Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) was willing to go a bit further, conceding that the allegations "don't look good."

"In his position, why do you want to rent an apartment from a lobbyist for God's sake?" the Louisiana Republican added. "Stop leading with your chin. Now these are unforced errors. They are stupid. There are a lot of problems we can't solve. But you can behave. I'm not -- I don't mean to denigrate Mr. Pruitt but doggone it he represents the president of the United States and it is hurting his boss and it needs to stop."

But even this was ultimately unsatisfying, in part because Kennedy stopped short of calling for Pruitt's resignation, and in part because urging him to "behave" is an underwhelming recommendation when talking about a cabinet official who's already accused of misbehaving -- many, many times.

Republicans have a decision to make: faced with evidence of corruption, GOP officials in the White House and on Capitol Hill can either deal with the scandal or they can look the other way. Over the weekend, the president and many in his party confronted the question and answered it the wrong way.