An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) political appointee gave top officials “unsolicited advice so often” that Administrator Scott Pruitt directed he be excluded from staff meetings, according to two senior officials.
Former Washington state lawmaker Don Benton was one of several holdovers from the transition to stay on at EPA to keep tabs on Pruitt and his inner circle, two senior administration sources told The Washington Post.
The White House had similar appointees installed at every federal agency, but Pruitt hasn’t gotten along very well with Benton. Sources told WaPo Benton “offered unsolicited advice so often that after just four weeks on the job, Pruitt has shut him out of many staff meetings.”
WaPo reported the White House used political appointees to make sure top cabinet officials “carry out the president’s agenda and don’t stray too far from the White House’s talking points.”
“The advisers were a main point of contact in the early transition process as the agencies were being set up,” an administration official told WaPo. “Like every White House, this one is in frequent contact with agencies and departments.”
While most cabinet officials seem to get along just fine with White House advisers, Benton’s presence at EPA seems to have increased tensions, according to agency officials.
“These officials said Benton piped up so frequently during policy discussions that he had been disinvited from many of them,” WaPo reported. “One of the officials described the situation as akin to an episode of the HBO comedy series ‘Veep.’”
Pruitt didn’t butt heads with just Benton, he also kept former transition official David Schnare out of meetings. Schnare resigned March 15, shortly after being frozen out of meetings with senior EPA staff.
While Schnare gave few details about the exact circumstances of his resignation, he said it was over a “question of integrity” among EPA political appointees and career employees.
“When the time comes I will name names and go into specifics,” Schnare said, adding that he thinks the information will be “eye-opening.”
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