On April 11, a top Environmental Protection Agency official texted me that something strange was happening.
Moments before, the source told me, Administrator Scott Pruitt had strolled into the office “just to say hi.” “It’s been too long since we’ve caught up,” Pruitt told the source. “I just wanted to thank you for always working hard.”
Pruitt then knocked on Ryan Jackson’s door, according to the source. Upon entering, he gave his chief of staff “a huge bear hug.” Recounting the incident to others later, Jackson would say that something like that “had never happened before.”
“This place is weird,” the source summed up that April morning. “Really, really weird.”
For this official and other political appointees who heard about Pruitt’s behavior, it seemed that he was on a goodbye tour of sorts. After all, it had been a fraught week for the administrator. Days before, my colleague Robinson Meyer and I had reported that Pruitt bypassed the White House to give hefty salary bumps to his two closest aides, which The New York Times would later report sparked “irritation” in the West Wing. And it was the same week that Pruitt’s deputy, Andrew Wheeler, was set to be confirmed by the Senate. It was possible, multiple sources speculated at the time, that President Trump was waiting for Pruitt’s successor to be cleared before giving his embattled administrator the boot. “But we don’t want to jinx anything,” one of the officials told me.