Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s departure from the Trump administration came in the wake of a scathing New York Times story, but it was the culmination of months of negative press that ended his time as chief.
As scathing as The Times report was, however, it was “just the murder weapon,” one source with knowledge of the situation told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Pruitt’s resignation had “been coming for awhile,” the source said.
It was the endless stream of negative press combined with pressure from White House staff that eventually forced Trump’s hand.
White House staff had been pressuring President Donald Trump to relieve Pruitt of his duty for months amid a seemingly endless stream of reports, detailing alleged ethical violations and misuses of taxpayer dollars.
White House chief of staff John Kelly began pressing Trump to fire Pruitt by April, after it was reported the former EPA chief rented a room in a condo owned by a prominent D.C. lobbyist.
Administration officials told The Washington Post that Kelly was “seemingly obsessed with getting Pruitt ousted.” Kelly finally won out, The Post reported, and Trump had the “chief of staff call the [EPA] around midday to say it was time for Pruitt to go.”
A number of EPA staffers had also turned on Pruitt and began leaking stories to the press. Close aides also revealed embarrassing details about Pruitt’s running of EPA during congressional testimony that only fueled more negative press.
Pruitt’s ousting was the “culmination of weeks of negative publicity that was becoming a political burden on the president,” anonymous officials told The Post.
Pruitt faced increased scrutiny in the wake of reports that he approved sizable raises for two EPA staffers over objections from the White House. EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson took the blame for the pay raises.
As scandals mounted, White House staffers considered replacing Pruitt with Andrew Wheeler, a source told TheDCNF in April. Wheeler was then awaiting Senate confirmation to become EPA deputy administrator.
However, Trump continued to stick by Pruitt at the urging of donors and conservative groups who approved of the former Oklahoma attorney general’s deregulatory efforts. Firing Pruitt, they argued, could halt progress on rolling back the Obama administration’s agenda.
In Pruitt’s first year, EPA had cut $1 billion worth of rules and started the process of repealing major Obama-era regulations.
“I think there will be a temporary setback, but it’s the President’s agenda, not Pruitt’s, and I think Andrew Wheeler is fully committed to implementing that agenda,” Myron Ebell, who headed Trump’s EPA transition team, told TheDCNF.
“My guess is that it will be full speed ahead at EPA after the shock wears off,” said Ebell, the director of energy and global warming policy at the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Trump praised Pruitt’s cutting of red tape even as his advisors urged him to fire the embattled EPA chief. The two also got along well and even enjoyed spending time with one another, The Post reported, but eventually Trump decided to replace Pruitt for Wheeler.
Senators confirmed Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist and Senate staffer, in mid-April. Trump named Wheeler as acting head of EPA when announcing Pruitt’s resignation on Thursday. (RELATED: Sen. Jim Inhofe’s Former Staffers Are Ascendant At EPA)
“The Senate confirmed Deputy at EPA, Andrew Wheeler, will on Monday assume duties as the acting Administrator of the EPA,” Trump tweeted. “I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!”
In his resignation letter, Pruitt said “unrelenting attacks” against himself and his family “are unprecedented and taken a sizeable toll on all of us.”
“My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people,” Pruitt wrote. “I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence.”
Trump announced Pruitt’s resignation after The Times reported that “aides deleted sensitive information about his meetings from his public schedule and potentially violated the law in doing so.”
A former EPA scheduler said she “was fired after she raised objections about the deletions, which she believed were illegal.” She said EPA lawyers told her deleting calendar meetings could violate federal records law.
EPA officials told The Times meetings had been removed from Pruitt’s calendar “to remove errors that had been left in the electronic record after various events were canceled or happened differently than expected,” the paper reported.
The accusation, largely based on accounts from former EPA official Kevin Chmielewski, sparked concerns Pruitt violated federal records law by having staff delete meetings from his calendar.
Chmielewski left EPA earlier in 2018 and quickly became a thorn in Pruitt’s side. The former Trump campaign official gave Democrats a list of accusations against Pruitt, some of which were later shown to be false or misleading.
Chmielewski was also caught misrepresenting his Coast Guard service on his resume and had not filled out financial disclosure forms legally required of administration officials. Not filing one could be considered a criminal offense.
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