Because of his numerous shady dealings as the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt faced at least 13 federal investigations as he announced his resignation today.
Depending on the final outcome of these probes, the allegations of corruption, secrecy and excessive spending means that he might go down in history as one of the most unethical Cabinet members in U.S. history.
But I think the departed EPA boss has already nailed down the title of the weirdest guy to serve in a president’s Cabinet, at least in recent history.
Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general, lasted only 16½ months on the job at EPA yet, right to the very end, the tales of strange, incredulous behavior kept mounting.
Consider these revelations about President Trump’s choice to lead the agency:
- Pruitt had enlisted his staff continuously to run a series of personal errands, including routinely picking up snacks for him and at one point driving him around to find a skin lotion he preferred that was sold exclusively at Ritz-Carlton hotels.
- He directed staff to inquire about purchasing a used mattress for him from the president’s Washington, D.C., hotel, the Trump International.
- He spent $43,000 (without proper authorization) to install a soundproof phone booth in his office at EPA headquarters. At a price of $9,000, Pruitt initially had the office swept for electronic bugs and the doors equipped with biometric locking devices. He also requested a bulletproof desk and a bulletproof car.
- Concerned about his odd behavior, Trump administration officials told Pruitt to stop eating freebie meals so often at the White House cafeteria.
- He ordered 12 fountain pens, at a cost of $1,560, emblazoned with the EPA symbol and Pruitt’s signature.
- He put his staff to work on finding a job for his wife. At first the instructions were to arrange for her to acquire a Chick-fil-A restaurant franchise. The second directive called for EPA staff to work out a $200,000 job for her at the National Republican Attorneys General Association, an organization which Pruitt formerly chaired.
- When he first arrived in
Washington, Pruitt rented a luxury condo for $50 a night, paying only when he slept there, from the wife of an energy industry lobbyist for whom Pruitt did favors as head of the EPA. To understand the extent of this sweetheart deal, $50 nightly in D.C. is about the equivalent of paying $50,000 for a waterfront mansion in the Grosse Pointes. After six months, the lobbyist-spouse buddies became frustrated with Pruitt for failing to keep up with the rent. They evicted him by changing the locks.
- As part of his obsession with secrecy, Pruitt put some of his expensive hotel reservations on staffers’ credit cards, and then never paid them back.
- At a “press conference” earlier this year to announce a monumental rollback in future auto emissions rules, Pruitt attempted to arrange for Fox News to exclusively gain access to the media event.
These unprecedented moves demonstrated arrogance, inflated self-importance and, most of all, paranoia. Pruitt repeatedly indicated that he needed special protection because the EPA chief could be in danger without it. Maybe he had an irrational fear of Greenpeace activists.
One of the dangers that was apparently cited by Pruitt’s team involved a photo of the administrator, with a mustache drawn onto the picture, that was taped onto an elevator wall at the EPA building.
Pruitt was the first EPA administrator to establish a 24/7 security detail to stand by him every step of the day. In Pruitt’s first year as EPA chief alone, he spent nearly $3.5 million on security. That was nearly double the cost of previous administrators. He also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for travel on military jets and private chartered flights until congressional pressure forced him to back off a bit from his lavish, taxpayer-funded lifestyle. He started flying in first-class seats on commercial airliners. But he kept racking up the frequent-flyer miles.
Though his job was strictly limited to domestic policy, he shamelessly flew with his security guards for trips to Morocco and Italy – travels that were arranged in part by lobbyists. The security costs of the excursion to Italy alone reached $30,000. He took personal trips to Disneyland and to this year’s Rose Bowl game, again with his security team in tow, to watch his beloved Oklahoma Sooners from prime seats located near the 50-yard-line. An oil and gas lobbyist arranged for the tickets.
In Washington, Pruitt traveled in a motorcade and complained, according to some reports, that he couldn’t use flashing lights and sirens to bypass all traffic, just like the president.
There’s much more, but I will leave it to presidential historians to make the judgment call. Is this the kookiest reign of a Cabinet member, over just 16 ½ months, that we have seen? Or would it have taken a few more months for Pruitt to sew up the trophy for Weirdest Ever?