As Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt faces a seemingly endless stream of scandal, his team is scrambling to divert the spotlight to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. And the White House isn’t happy about it.
In the last week, a member of Pruitt’s press team, Michael Abboud, has been shopping negative stories about Zinke to multiple outlets, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the efforts, as well as correspondence reviewed by The Atlantic.
“This did not happen, and it’s categorically false,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.
The stories were shopped with the intention of “taking the heat off of Pruitt,” the sources said, in the aftermath of the EPA chief’s punishing congressional hearing last week. They both added, however, that most reporters felt the story was not solid enough to run. On Thursday, Patrick Howley of Big League Politics published a piece on the allegations; he did not respond to request for comment as to his sources.
Abboud alleged to reporters that an Interior staffer conspired with former EPA deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski to leak damaging information about the EPA, as part of a rivalry between Zinke and Pruitt. The collaboration, Abboud claimed, allowed the Interior staffer to prop up Zinke at the expense of Pruitt, and Chmielewski to “get back” at his former boss.