Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt denied reports that a member of the EPA press team shopped out negative stories of another cabinet member to take pressure off Pruitt, the Washington Examiner reported.
Pruitt testified in front of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Wednesday on the 2019 budget request for the EPA. Lawmakers took the opportunity to press the administrator on allegations that a member of the EPA press office tried to give damaging stories on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to journalists.
“That was not happening,” Pruitt said, according to The Washington Examiner. “We have investigated that and spoken to Interior [about it].”
EPA press aide Michael Abboud went to multiple outlets with stories on Zinke, trying to light another press fire and distract from negative coverage on Pruitt, according to a May 3 report from The Atlantic.
No outlets published anything along the lines of what Abboud allegedly tried to push. An Interior staffer was working with a jaded EPA employee to leak damaging information about Pruitt as part of an inter-cabinet rivalry between Pruitt and Zinke, Abboud told reporters, according to The Atlantic.
While the reports of an Interior staffer working to damage Pruitt’s credibility in the press have not been corroborated, evidence suggests former EPA official Kevin Chmielewski has been actively undermining Pruitt in the press. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Memo Details EPA Leaker’s Plan To ‘Retaliate’ Against Scott Pruitt)
Pruitt defended Abboud during the hearing, saying the press staffer denied the report. Pruitt also said his chief of staff had called Zinke’s chief of staff to soothe hard feelings and reassure the Interior secretary the reports are false.
Pruitt and Zinke have both taken heat for financial expenditures in recent months. Scrutiny on Pruitt has been especially intense, and many critics of the administrator have called on President Donald Trump to fire him. Trump has continued to back Pruitt, however, citing Pruitt’s effectiveness at enacting the president’s deregulatory agenda. (RELATED: TRUMP: I Still Have Confidence In Scott Pruitt)