Scott Pruitt hides from media in wake of his scandals

Speaking to a friendly outlet, the head of Trump's EPA says ethics questions are just partisan attacks

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published April 4, 2018 8:38AM (EDT)

 (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Scott Pruitt, the man appointed by President Donald Trump to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has made it clear that he is just as determined to avoid questions from media outlets willing to challenge him as his boss.

The environmental administrator, who has been at the center of a whirlwind of controversy after it came out that he had lived in a townhouse co-owned by the wife of a powerful energy lobbyist, demonstrated his unwillingness to be held accountable by non-conservative media outlets during an event promoting his revision of greenhouse gas emission standards for automobiles, according to CNN. The event had initially been scheduled to occur at a Chevrolet dealership in Chantilly, Virginia, but was changed after some Chevrolet dealers said they didn't want their brand associated with the Trump administration's new policy. As a result, the announcement was officially made at the EPA's headquarters... but at first, only television journalists from Fox News were allowed into the event.

As CNN reported:

EPA had attempted to allow television camera access to Fox News without informing the other four networks: CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS. Fox alerted the networks and a pool was established allowing networks equal access to the event.

Eventually there were several journalists in the room from outlets like ABC News, Bloomberg and The New York Times, although it seemed like many of the reporters who were present had been notified of the event on an individual basis shortly before it started, requiring them to rush over. The EPA did not notify reporters of the event on a widespread basis using the agency press list, and when a correspondent from ABC News asked Pruitt if he still had the president's support, he declined to answer.

When Pruitt did start answering questions, it was during an interview on Tuesday with conservative newspaper The Washington Examiner. To defend his use of the townhouse, Pruitt argued that the controversy stemmed from members of the political establishment wanting to stop the Trump administration from draining the swamp.

"There are people that have long in this town done business a different way and this agency has been the poster child of it. And so do I think that because we are leading on this agenda that there are some who want to keep that from happening? Absolutely. And do I think that they will resort to anything to achieve that? Yes," Pruitt told the "Secrets" column Tuesday.

He added, "It’s toxic here in that regard.”

Pruitt also tried to characterize the controversy as related to the Trump administration's deregulatory agenda toward the EPA.

"This president’s courage and commitment to make those things happen and him empowering his teammates in each of these respective agencies to say go forth and get results and get accountability, it’s happening. It’s happening here, it’s happening elsewhere. And do I think that is something that some folks don’t like? Absolutely. And do I think they’ll use any means to [stop] it? Absolutely. And it’s frustrating," Pruitt told the Examiner.

He also argued that the owner of the townhouse was an Oklahoman like himself who he had known "for years" and "has no clients that are before this agency, nor does his wife have any clients that have appeared before this agency." Pruitt also insisted, "I’ve had ethics counsel here at the agency, the office of general counsel and ethics officials review the lease. They’ve actually looked at the lease. Most of the people who are criticizing me haven’t. If you look at the lease it’s very clear it’s market value."

The Examiner also reported that the White House had contacted Pruitt, with Trump letting the EPA head know that "we've got your back."

Setting aside Pruitt's controversial townhouse, the EPA head has been under fire since the start of his tenure for being too cozy with the industries he is supposed to regulate. In October it was revealed that he had met with energy executives nearly every day of his tenure, while in June it was revealed that he and his staff had dozens of meetings with executives and lobbyists from the coal, oil and gas industries while he served as Oklahoma attorney general.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Donald Trump Epa Scott Pruitt