Even those who've come to expect the worst from EPA chief Scott Pruitt were taken aback last week. The Washington Post reported that the Oklahoma Republican used government employees, during work hours, to reach out to the CEO of a fast-food company about "a potential business opportunity."
Or more specifically, Pruitt wanted to use his position in the hopes of getting his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise. Soon after, several congressional Democrats urged the Justice Department to begin a criminal probe of the scandal-plagued cabinet official.
Making matters just a little worse, this apparently wasn't the only example of the EPA administrator using his position to advance his wife's interests. The Washington Post moved the ball forward this morning:
Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt last year had a top aide help contact Republican donors who might offer his wife a job, eventually securing her a position at a conservative political group that has backed him for years, according to multiple individuals familiar with the matter.The job hunt included Pruitt's approaching wealthy party supporters and conservative figures with ties to the Trump administration. The individuals said he enlisted Samantha Dravis, then serving as associate administrator for the EPA's Office of Policy, to line up work for his wife.And when one donor, Doug Deason, said he could not hire Marlyn Pruitt because of a conflict of interest, Pruitt continued to solicit his help in trying to find other possibilities.
In case this isn't obvious, cabinet secretaries are not supposed to use their offices to advance their spouses' financial interests. That's very likely illegal.
Indeed, consider what Lawrence Noble, former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission, told the Washington Post last week -- before we knew about this latest controversy:
"The idea here is when you have an employee working for you, when you have a subordinate working for you when you're in the government, you may not ask that subordinate to do anything outside of their regular job because there's an inherent coercion in your position," Noble said. Such requests are explicitly barred in the statute. It doesn't matter if he'd asked his staffer to do it on her private time -- it's still coercion.If the staffer completed the request during work hours, of course, the issue is more severe. "By doing that," Noble noted, "they're using government resources for his or his wife's personal benefit."A violation of that prohibition probably happened anyway, Noble pointed out: Pruitt was allegedly using his official position to ask for a private benefit for his spouse. "That's a direct violation on the prohibition on the use of public office for private gain," Noble said.
And now we know he did this more than once.
After last week's controversy came to light, Pruitt made no effort to deny what he'd done, defending his actions by saying, "I love, she loves, we love -- Chick-fil-A is a franchise of faith, and it's one of the best in the country, and so that's something we were very excited about. So we need more of them in Tulsa, and we need more of them across the country."
He could've pleaded ignorance and acknowledged that he'd made a mistake, but that's one of the things that makes Pruitt's scandals so amazing: the EPA chief has brazenly declared that he doesn't think the rules apply to him.
"These are serious violations," Noble added last week. "But what's most disturbing is they are serial violations. It's not like he made one mistake one time. What we see here is a pattern of either complete ignorance of the ethics rules or a complete disregard of them. There's just an almost pathological pattern here of just doing whatever he wants to do."
As regular readers know, I recently kicked around possible explanations for Pruitt sticking around, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to wrap one’s head around this. Even other far-right Republicans are giving up on this guy.
The Trump White House’s tolerance for corruption has been obvious for a while, but it’s clearly getting worse.