Scott Pruitt’s abrupt exit from the EPA resulted in 'chaos and confusion': report
Former Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt's final days at the agency were filled with "chaos and confusion" according to newly revealed emails that were shared with E&E News on Thursday.
Pruitt was a controversial figure in Donald Trump's presidential administration. A militant climate change denier, Pruitt oversaw the dismantling of regulations that protected our air and water and required polluting corporations to clean up their acts. His tenure was also constantly plagued by corruption scandals.
Pruitt resigned in July of 2018 at the request of then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and two other top Trump advisers, Bloomberg reported at the time:
Doctored schedules -- which could be a criminal violation of the Federal Records Act -- were effectively the final straw after a tenure marred by alleged ethical missteps. The administration knew that more damaging reports would emerge soon, one of the people said.
Trump ultimately announced Pruitt’s departure on Twitter at 3:37 p.m. Thursday, saying the EPA chief had done an 'outstanding job.' Later, Trump said Pruitt chose to resign because he felt he was a distraction. 'It was very much up to him,' Trump told reporters on Air Force One. 'We’ve been talking about it for a little while.'
Since his abrupt exit from the EPA, not much has been heard from or about Pruitt.
"Pruitt has kept a low public profile since his exit from the agency, but he’s reemerged in headlines as he’s been making calls to donors and former aides about a possible Senate run in Oklahoma," E&E noted on March 18th. "Former Trump Administration officials told E&E News this week they think Pruitt may see a Senate campaign as an avenue to burnish his public image after his fall from grace at EPA."
The emails published on Thursday shed light on what went down inside the EPA during Pruitt's final hours.
Incredibly, Pruitt kept his staff in the dark, having not shared his letter of resignation with them. E&E found that then-Fox News Chief White House correspondent John Roberts was the first person to obtain it. Pruitt communications aide Jahan Wilcox would eventually send him a copy.
“Nice job getting this!” Wilcox wrote to Roberts.
“Scott texted it to me..” Roberts replied.
“AWESOME!!!” Wilcox said.
“And now….you are……free…….” Roberts added in a later correspondence.
It took quite some time for the news to trickle through the agency's personnel.
“Bill, I do not have a copy of the letter. I have a copy of the text of a letter which Administrator Pruitt texted to someone else at EPA and who forwarded it to me," then-EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson wrote to White House Cabinet Secretary Bill McGinley.
There was also a struggle among staffers to ensure that Pruitt followed the proper exit procedures.
"EPA ethics officials sprung into action when they learned of Pruitt’s resignation," E&E gleaned from the emails it received.
“Typically, OGC/ethics has a meeting with the departing official so that we can go over the rules and the obligations,” EPA senior ethics counsel Justina Fugh wrote to Jackson and the EPA’s deputy White House liaison Hayley Ford. “How do you advise we proceed in this situation? When will Mr. Pruitt be leaving?”
E&E news learned that Pruitt never completed his final paperwork.
”We can confirm that the departure briefing did not occur but hard copy briefing materials were provided,” EPA spokesperson Tim Carroll told E&E News.
Throughout the EPA, Pruitt's unexpected desertion sparked a spectrum of emotions among the agency's employees, the emails shared with E&E revealed:
'I’m sure it’s a tough day for you guys. Hang in there,' said one email, its sender’s name redacted.
Others were more celebratory.
'I guess your life is easier now. Corruption away!' said another email, addressed to Jackson. Wilcox also received a similar message.
Queries came thick and fast, including how Pruitt’s resignation could disrupt EPA’s operations.
“We’re getting quite a few ?s about PFAS,” Molly Block, another press official at the Trump EPA, said in an email. “How do we want to move forward on this?”
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