Saul: America Can Thank Journalists For Scott Pruitt's Resignation

He is not a victim. He's a public official who was held accountable.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

If it weren't for the dogged work of journalists from all over the country, Scott Pruitt would still be the EPA administrator.  

But thanks to relentless effort from some of the best beat reporters and investigative journalists, Pruitt and his administration were exposed again and again. Pruitt has claimed that he was a victim of media smears, but the truth is he's an example of media at its best: diligent and fastidious in its role as the fourth estate.

The list of Pruitt-era EPA scandals are diverse in their nature and were first reported by several different news outlets. But all have one thing in common: the American public wouldn't have known any of them without the reporters who dug in to discover the corruption that led to his resignation.

In July, The New York Times reported that an EPA scheduler was told to change and delete information from Pruitt's schedule that had already taken place, a potential violation of federal law. When she questioned the decision to change the information, she was fired, per The Times.

bakdc / Shutterstock.com

The Washington Post reported that a former EPA administrator told investigators that she was asked to help Pruitt's wife get a job. The salary, she was told, needed to be at least $200,000. The paper also reported that Pruitt, after becoming EPA chief, tried to get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise, emailing the head of a Chick-fil-A restaurant about a business opportunity. 

Many outlets found that Pruitt spent excessively on travel, including first-class tickets and chartered flights. An initial report noted that Pruitt had spent $90,000 in a single week in July 2018 on travel. According to Forbes, "Pruitt flew in luxury class on a non-U.S. airline, even though rules require government employees to fly on U.S. airlines; he spent $40,000 on a trip to Morocco about natural gas exports, a topic not in his office's purview; his staff looked into a private-jet lease at Pruitt's request (but abandoned it); and the EPA spent $45,000 for staffers to prepare for an Australian trip that never happened."

The Atlantic found that Pruitt gave two staffers he was close to raises by using a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to increase their wages, even after the White House asked him not to. When he was pressed on this fact by reporter and Fox News television host Ed Henry, Pruitt repeatedly denied the allegations. 

ABC News reported that Pruitt rented a Washington D.C. apartment from a lobbyist with a steep discount of $50 a night. The landlord was married to a lobbyist who was representing EPA clients. Per Politico, Pruitt eventually overstayed his lease, and when the landlord changed the locks, his security team broke the door down trying to reach him — which they'd have to pay for later. 

Several news outlets reported that Pruitt installed a soundproof booth in his office so he could speak privately with Republicans and the White House, a first for an EPA official. Pruitt signed a $25,000 contract to build the booth, and the cost was later revised to $43,000 due to modifications that were made to the booth. 

Pruitt also spent an exorbitant amount of money on his security detail, increasing it to a level no official in his position had ever needed. EPA officials claimed that the detail was necessary because of death threats — but BuzzFeed News obtained documents showing that the EPA could never actually prove that his life was in danger. One such "death threat" including someone drawing a mustache on a picture of Pruitt on a magazine cover. 

Incredibly, these are just a few of the scandals that have swirled around the EPA during Pruitt's tenure. Members of Congress and the GAO are still looking into stories about Pruitt appearing in a National Cattlemen's Beef Association video opposing a clean-water rule made under Obama, hiring lobbyists in violation of a Trump administration rule, allegedly giving a superfund job to a banker who had given loans to Pruitt and dismissing scientists from advisory boards then replacing them with political appointees. 

All of this would have been unknown if it weren't for the journalists and ethics officials who did their jobs and kept a close eye on this administration and the EPA. Pruitt might claim he is being smeared by a conspiratorial, vengeful media. But the truth is much simpler: he was held accountable by the people whose jobs it is to hold the powerful to account.

We should all be thankful that there were journalists out there making sure we knew.

Cover photo: Shutterstock /mark reinstein.

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