Pruitt met extensively with industry figures and others, seeking to hide the meetings from public scrutiny or awareness. He spent $43,000 on a soundproof booth for his office, exceeding spending regulations. He made an overseas trip arranged by a lobbyist, with unclear government purposes. Reporting revealed cozy and possibly unethical arrangements during his time in Oklahoma politics.
As my colleagues Elaina Plott and Robinson Meyer first reported, Pruitt sought large raises for aides he had brought with him from Oklahoma. When the White House rejected the raises, Pruitt sought a workaround. He denied he was aware of the raises, but emails obtained by Plott suggest he personally approved them.
More than anything, Pruitt seemed interested in living the good life, using the taxpayer dollar as his bankroll and government employees as his gophers. (Within Trump’s Cabinet, this tendency distinguished him by degree, not type.) Pruitt spent almost $10,000 redecorating his office. He traveled frequently on first-class plane tickets. The EPA claimed he did so because of security threats, and said he’d been granted a blanket waiver to buy the pricier tickets. But internal watchdogs said the threats didn’t justify the upgrades, and furthermore, there are no legal blanket waivers. Pruitt insisted on a 24/7 security detail, costing around $3.5 million in his first year alone, and upgraded his official car to a newer, heavier, bulletproof model. He was, however, turned down in his request to use the car’s sirens so he could more quickly drive around D.C.
Pruitt treated his aides as personal assistants, sending the security detail to pick up his dry cleaning and seek a specific kind of Ritz-Carlton lotion he liked. He assigned other aides to seek Rose Bowl tickets and track down a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel in D.C. that he could sleep on. In addition to asking aides to help get his wife a job at RAGA, Pruitt also arranged a phone call with the CEO of Chick-fil-A, hoping to arrange a franchise for her.
Pruitt’s aides brought him down in the end. Former Deputy Chief of Staff Kevin Chmielewski, fired after a disagreement, began speaking to the press and to investigators about Pruitt, unspooling a string of stories. Other aides were compelled to testify. Millan Hupp, one of the Oklahomans, resigned shortly after she testified to the House Oversight Committee. According to The Daily Beast, Pruitt sought to block her from getting a new job after she left.
Pruitt was adept at managing up, and his strong relationship with Trump helped him survive well after the president’s top aides, including Chief of Staff John Kelly, had concluded Pruitt needed to go. Though Pruitt had been critical of Trump during the presidential campaign, he energetically jumped on the bandwagon. He hung out at the White House mess so much he was asked to limit his visits. He flattered Trump in person, and enacted the president’s agenda aggressively at EPA. His suggestion that he replace Sessions was likely designed to endear him further to the president, who has raged at the attorney general publicly and privately. As I wrote last month, Trump could perhaps see an echo of himself in Pruitt: a public figure accused of corruption and blaming the press for persecuting him. Trump might have seen Pruitt’s fate as a bellwether for his own, too.