This roster of scandals is exhausting, but it’s not exhaustive—in the interests of space, I have condensed many of these stories, and have probably omitted others unintentionally. The New York Times counts 12 separate federal inquiries into Pruitt, and new revelations are emerging on an almost daily basis, as reporters get their hands on fresh documents. And as Dino Grandoni writes, the flow is unlikely to stop, since many of the scandals being uncovered now stretch back months ago. Is there any reason to believe that Pruitt has completely cleaned up his act since then?
Early on in the drip of Pruitt stories, it seemed likely that he’d soon be out of a job, following other toppled Cabinet members Tom Price, the former secretary of health and human services, and David Shulkin, the secretary of veterans affairs, both of whom were forced out after revelations about profligate travel spending on the public dime. The White House was said to be (understandably) miffed about the public-relations damage done by the Pruitt stories.
That was months ago. Pruitt’s still around, and the stories keep flowing, adding up to a far more damaging slate of news than what took down Price and Shulkin. And yet Pruitt seems unsinkable. He’s not even bothering to offer denials or contrition.
Pruitt offered this non sequitur when confronted about the Chick-fil-A story:
I think with great change comes, I think you know, opposition. There’s significant changes happening not only at the EPA but across the administration and it’s needed. Look, My wife is an entrepreneur herself, I love, she loves, we love Chick-fil-A as a franchise of faith and it’s one of the best in the country and that’s something we were very excited about and we need more of them in Tulsa and we need more of them across the country. So anyway, it’s an exciting time.
Pruitt has done well for himself in the past using other people’s money, so it stands to reason he’d keep at it. The question for the time being is why Pruitt seems so impervious to the scandal.
The answer seems to come down, ultimately, to Trump. The president must see in Pruitt’s travails an echo of what he views as his own persecution by the press. Regardless of the scandals, Trump approves of the job Pruitt is doing at EPA. And perhaps most importantly, the president may see Pruitt’s fate as a bellwether for his own.
“Scott Pruitt is doing a great job within the walls of the EPA,” Trump said Friday. “I mean, we’re setting records. Outside, he’s being attacked very viciously by the press. I’m not saying that he’s blameless, but we’ll see what happens.”
Price and Shulkin were both forced out for lesser offenses, but the circumstances were somewhat different. Price’s downfall came in September 2017, much earlier in the administration. The administration may simply have been more concerned about its public image then than it is now. Since then, however, it has become clear that Trump will never recover his standing with the press and elite opinion, so he has less incentive to be responsive.