Policy

Pruitt’s Shadow May Linger Over EPA as Probes Continue

Carper: ‘It still blows my mind’

Scott Pruitt, shown here in May, may be out as EPA administrator, but he’s still casting a long shadow over the agency. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Scandal-plagued former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt may no longer work at the agency, but at least some of the investigations into his alleged misdeeds will continue.

From the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigation that has uncovered damaging allegations of Pruitt’s misuse of staff, to numerous open EPA inspector general audits of his travel spending, Pruitt’s cloud over the EPA is likely to linger as conclusions from the multiple probes trickle out through the rest of 2018.

House Oversight will continue its investigation, a committee spokesman confirmed Tuesday. And with the conservative credentials of Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, the committee’s decision to carry on can expect backing from even the most ardent Pruitt supporters.

“Gowdy is such a responsible person, and I would never try to second guess that he would make the wrong decision on that,” said GOP Sen. James M. Inhofe, a longtime supporter of fellow Oklahoman Pruitt. “He knows the legal ramifications of what started it and why it should continue or not continue. … There is no one I know of that is more responsible than Gowdy is, and if he makes that decision, then I back him 100 percent.”

[Trump Defends Pruitt Until the Very End]

Pruitt’s actions prompted more than a dozen probes, audits or investigations by the Government Accountability Office as well as the EPA’s IG office. The former Oklahoma attorney general generated a stream of damaging headlines for alleged and documented ethical and judgmental missteps, including spending, travel practices, cozy relationships with industry and lobbyists, treatment of agency staff, and questionable business dealings in Oklahoma before he came to Washington.

President Donald Trump announced in a tweet July 5 that he had accepted Pruitt’s resignation and named Assistant Administrator Andrew Wheeler to replace him starting July 9.

The amount of action requested by lawmakers resulted in a call for more appropriations by the EPA’s IG office as it became overwhelmed by the volume of investigatory demands. In an email Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the IG said the office was still evaluating its options for a number of Pruitt-related audits.

“We’ve been working with Inspector General Arthur Elkins to assess and evaluate relevant work in light of Mr. Pruitt’s resignation,” said Jennifer Kaplan, adding that a decision would be made public “shortly.”

Continuing expectations

Among some members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, the Senate panel with EPA oversight responsibilities, the expectation is that the IG will continue its work.

“I expect that the [inspector general] would continue,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming.

Some of those probes are required by law to be completed, said Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, though which ones remained unclear.

“In some cases where the only remedy is a personnel remedy, and the fact [Pruitt] is no longer personnel kind of obviates that,” Whitehouse said. “In other cases where there is either a policy point that needs to be clarified for the agency or where there is civil or criminal potential liability, then obviously they should continue. But I think that gets driven by governing law, not by anybody’s opinion.”

The EPA IG could not confirm or deny whether it has investigations open on Pruitt, a separate category than audits. The investigations are “criminal investigations, which look for violations of the law. Special agents carry badges and guns,” according to the IG website.

EPW Democrats, including Whitehouse and ranking member Thomas R. Carper of Delaware were influential in launching several of the probes. The group wrote more than 70 oversight letters on Pruitt’s behavior. After that much effort, they want some definitive conclusions, Carper told reporters.

“There’s a number that should continue, particularly the ones that involve a lot of money expenditures and whether it was authorized, especially those, and the extraordinary precautions and expenditure of funds for his protection,” Carper said of the probes he would like to see completed. “It still blows my mind.”

From the Archives: Lawmakers Confront Pruitt at Hearing

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