Scott Pruitt's former EPA staffer flips, turns whistleblower

Both Pruitt and several of his aides have reportedly kept "secret" calendars for meetings with big business leaders

Published July 3, 2018 3:52PM (EDT)

Scott Pruitt (Getty/Aaron P. Bernstein)
Scott Pruitt (Getty/Aaron P. Bernstein)

President Donald Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has once again found himself in the middle of a major scandal, one so swamplike that a Trump-supporting former EPA staffer is now blowing the whistle.

Pruitt and several of his top aides are accused of keeping "secret" calendars and schedules and altering official records in order to conceal meetings between the EPA official and individuals whom they considered to be controversial for various reasons, according to a report by CNN. Pruitt's former deputy chief of staff for operations, Kevin Chmielewski (who says he was forced to leave the EPA in February for criticizing Pruitt's spending and management practices), claimed that Pruitt's staffers would frequently meet in order to revise the administrator's officially released schedule in order to avoid publicizing details that they feared would make him look bad. For instance, meetings in June 2017 between Pruitt and Cardinal George Pell, who was later accused of a number of sexual offenses, were taken off the schedule after the revelations came out.

"We would have meetings what we were going to take off on the official schedule. We had at one point three different schedules. One of them was one that no one else saw except three or four of us. It was a secret ... and they would decide what to nix from the public calendar," Chmielewski told CNN.

If the accusations against Pruitt and his staffers are true, there could be legal ramifications for the EPA head.

"If somebody changed, deleted, scrubbed a federal record with the intent of deceiving the public or intent of deceiving anybody, it could very well be a violation of federal law," Larry Noble, a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission, told CNN.

In addition to the meeting with Pell, which Chmielewski says was scrubbed from the official schedule for PR reasons, Pruitt had a number of meetings removed because they showed him meeting with leaders of some of the very industries he's supposed to regulate. In April 2017, for example, Pruitt's public schedule neglected to show a dinner meeting between the administrator and Joseph Craft, the CEO of a coal company named Alliance Resource Partners as well as a major contributor to Trump's inauguration and a number of Republican political candidates.

On another occasion, Pruitt's public schedule says that he met in September 2017 with former Sen. Trent Lott, even though his internal schedule revealed that he also met with the then-CEO of a shipping company called TOTE named Anthony Chiarello. There was also a meeting in October 2017 that, though simply labeled as "Staff Briefing" on the official schedule, was revealed through internal scheduling documents to have been a meeting at an Orange County Superfund Site that was initially requested by conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt.

The claim that Pruitt has altered his public schedule is just one of a number of scandals that has plagued the administrator since he took over after Trump replaced President Barack Obama in 2017. As Justin Anderson of pointed out in May:

Scott Pruitt sure is busy these days. The climate change-denying head of the Environmental Protection Agency has been renting out a Washington condo on the cheap from an energy lobbyist; installing a $43,000 soundproof booth for his telephone calls; passing out improper pay raises to aides; jet-setting around the world on first-class flights; hitting up Disneyland and the Rose Bowl with his oversized $3 million, 20-person security detail; receiving police escorts to trendy D.C. restaurant Le Diplomate; and even having a fancy dinner in Rome with Vatican treasurer, climate denier and recently charged child sexual abuser George Pell.

Pruitt has also been called out in the past for his inordinately frequent meetings with energy officials and other power players in the industries that the EPA normally regulates. In addition, Pruitt has been harshly criticized for furthering the Trump administration's broader anti-environment agenda, from denying man-made climate change and deregulating the coal industry to loosening anti-pollution laws and slashing the agency's budget (except when it comes to perks he can acquire for himself).

These scandals even led to a major embarrassment for Pruitt on Monday, when a concerned mother confronted him at a Teaism restaurant in Washington. She later recalled of the incident on Facebook:

EPA head Scott Pruitt was 3 tables away as I ate lunch with my child. I had to say something. This man is directly and significantly harming my child’s — and every child’s — health and future with decisions to roll back environmental regulations for the benefit of big corporations, while he uses taxpayer money to fund a lavish lifestyle. He’s corrupt, he’s a liar, he’s a climate change denier, and as a public servant, he should not be able to go out in public without hearing from the citizens he’s hurting.

"Administrator Pruitt always welcomes input from Americans, whether they agree or disagree with the decisions being made at EPA. This is evident by him listening to her comments and going on to thank her, which is not shown in the video. His leaving had nothing to do with the confrontation, he had simply finished his meal and needed to get back to EPA for a briefing," EPA spokesman Lincoln Ferguson explained in a statement sent to USA Today.

Despite Pruitt's controversial policies and personal conduct, there is no sign that Trump is planning on removing him from his position. Indeed, Trump is reportedly happy with Pruitt personally and has even speculated about using him as a replacement attorney general for Jeff Sessions, who fell out of the president's favor when he recused himself from the Trump-Russia investigation in early 2017. When it comes to policies, of course, Trump campaigned as an anti-environmentalist during the 2016 presidential election and was particularly outspoken regarding his skepticism about man-made climate change.

In other words: No matter what Pruitt does to hurt future generations of Americans or betray the public trust, it looks like he is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times, now he runs it

On Pruitt's background with regard to the EPA

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency Epa Scott Pruitt