Trump Says He's `Not Happy' With Pruitt Amid Ethics Scandals

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump says Scott Pruitt’s done “a fantastic job” but that he’s not happy about some of the EPA administrator’s actions, amid numerous ethics probes that have cast doubt on Pruitt’s continued tenure at the agency.

“I’m looking at Scott, and Scott’s done a fantastic job at EPA,” Trump told reporters Friday. “I’m not happy about certain things. I’ll be honest.” Trump swiftly added: “He’s done a fantastic job running the EPA, which is very overriding. But I am not happy about it.”

Pruitt is under fire for leaning on Environmental Protection Agency employees to run personal errands and help secure a job for his wife, the latest in a string of ethical missteps to come to light about the former Oklahoma attorney general.

He’s been under months of scrutiny over accusations of about unethical behavior and questionable decisions, including an arrangement to rent a bedroom in a Capitol Hill condo from a lobbyist for $50 a night and frequent taxpayer-funded travel to his home state of Oklahoma.

Chicken Franchise

While Democrats have been Pruitt’s harshest critics to date, the latest revelations have drawn sharp condemnation from some conservatives, including former allies who’d earlier championed the EPA chief’s work to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations.

Pruitt enlisted aides on multiple occasions to help line up work for his wife, Marlyn Pruitt -- an effort that included contacting the chief executive of Chick-fil-A Inc. in pursuit of a chicken sandwich franchise. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that EPA staff also contacted donors who might offer her a job.

Also on Friday, a top congressional Democrat questioned how Pruitt obtained tickets to the Rose Bowl college football game with the help of the founder of a firm doing communications work for energy companies.

Sooners Tickets

The Oklahoma City, Oklahoma-based public relations consultancy represents an oil pipeline operator with business before the EPA, said Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The University of Oklahoma Sooners played in the game last January. A former EPA aide has told congressional staff she helped arrange travel for Pruitt and his family to the game in Pasadena, California.

“Representative Cummings is misconstruing the facts,” said EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox. The chief executive of the PR firm, “a friend of Administrator Pruitt and regent to the University of Oklahoma, simply connected Pruitt to the athletic department. Pruitt purchased the tickets at face value from the OU athletic department.”

Trump has stood by Pruitt amid the months-long cascade of allegations and has increasingly drawn a distinction between the administrator’s work at the EPA and his personal behavior.

Not ‘Blameless’

A week ago, Trump told reporters Pruitt was “doing a great job within the walls of the EPA” while “being attacked very viciously by the press.” But the president also said at the time that Pruitt was not “blameless” in his many ethics controversies.

The White House has been conducting a review of Pruitt, one of at least 11 federal investigations into the EPA chief.

The federal government’s top ethics officer on Friday instructed the EPA’s internal watchdog to expand its ongoing probes to analyze new allegations Pruitt “misused his position” and to wrap up the investigations “as soon as possible.”

“We ask you to complete your report as soon as possible so that we can decide whether to begin a formal corrective action proceeding in order to make a formal recommendation to the president,” David Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, said in a letter to the EPA Inspector General.

“The American public needs to have confidence that ethics violations -- as well as the appearance of ethics violations -- are investigated and properly addressed,” Apol wrote.

Conservative groups have begun targeting Pruitt. The Iowa-based American Future Fund -- which in 2016 took aim at then-candidate Trump -- has produced an ad calling Pruitt a “swamp monster” and calling for his ouster “for the good of the country.”

And the National Review said in an editorial Wednesday that the continued reports of “bizarre or venal” behavior make it impossible for Pruitt to make the case for Trump’s environmental policies. “Pruitt is replaceable,” the magazine’s editors wrote. “He should be replaced.”

Conservative political commentator Laura Ingraham, typically a cheerleader for the president, called for Pruitt’s ouster on Wednesday, saying on Twitter that his “bad judgment” was hurting Trump and that the administrator has “gotta go.”

Congressional scrutiny is intensifying too. Senator John Barrasso, the Republican chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, plans to bring Pruitt before the panel for a hearing later this year, spokesman Mike Danylak said in an email.

Earlier this week, Barrasso asked congressional appropriators to ensure the EPA’s inspector general office has “sufficient funding,” given its ongoing reviews “concerning a wide range of allegations” related to Pruitt.

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