Embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt resigns
WASHINGTON - Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who relentlessly pursued President Donald Trump’s promises of deregulation at the Environmental Protection Agency, resigned Thursday after a cascade of controversies over his lavish spending, ethical lapses and controversial management decisions finally eroded the president’s confidence in one of his most ardent Cabinet members.
Pruitt’s reputation as a dogged deregulator and outspoken booster of the president allowed him to weather a litany of ethics scandals in recent months, including questions about taxpayer-funded first-class travel, a discounted condo rental from a Washington lobbyist and the installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in his office.
But revelations about his behavior continued to mount, including reports that he repeatedly enlisted subordinates to help him search for housing, book personal travel and even help search for a six-figure job for his wife. That quest included setting up a call with Chick-fil-A executives, in which he discussed her becoming a franchisee, as well as outreach to a conservative judicial group that eventually hired Marlyn Pruitt.
In recent weeks, an exodus of trusted staffers left Pruitt increasingly isolated, and some once-loyal Republican lawmakers wearied of defending him. Investigators on Capitol Hill had summoned current and former EPA aides for interviews, as part of the more than dozen federal inquiries into Pruitt’s spending and management of the agency.
On Thursday, Trump called Pruitt’s top deputy Andrew Wheeler to inform him that he would be taking the helm of the agency, according to an individual who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Soon after, Trump announced in a two-part tweet that he had accepted Pruitt’s resignation.
‘‘I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,’’ Trump tweeted. ‘‘Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this. The Senate confirmed Deputy at EPA, Andrew Wheeler, will on Monday assume duties as the acting Administrator of the EPA. I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!’’
Wheeler, a former Senate staffer and EPA employee who spent the past decade representing coal, mining and other energy companies, will take the helm of the agency on Monday, Trump tweeted.
The departure marked a precipitous fall for Pruitt, who during his roughly 16 months in office took steps to reverse more than a dozen major Obama-era regulations and overhauled key elements of the agency’s approach to scientific research. For months he had ranked as a personal confidant and influential policy adviser to the president, commiserating with Trump over negative stories and indiscreet aides while praising the commander-in-chief for his intelligence and political acumen.
As scrutiny of Pruitt grew in recent months, Trump initially stood by his EPA chief. The president tweeted in early April that he was ‘‘doing a great job,’’ despite revelations about a $50-a-night condo rental from a lobbyist, large raises for top aides and dozens of first-class flights and costly travel funded by taxpayers. Trump publicly defended Pruitt and praised his job performance as recently as early June.
Pruitt also endured a series of contentious hearings recently on Capitol Hill, admitting little culpability as lawmakers in both parties grilled him about his ethics and spending decisions.
But the EPA leader continued to be dogged by bad publicity, with a litany of alleged spending excesses that current and former aides shared with congressional lawmakers. The Government Accountability Office found that he violated spending laws by installing a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in his office - one of the more than half-dozen federal inquiries launched into his management and expenditures.