WASHINGTON — Scott Pruitt may be done with the federal government, but the federal government is not yet done with Scott Pruitt, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency. A report issued today by the inspector general of the EPA found that Pruitt spent close to a $1 million on travel in his first nine months on the job.
The report says that the agency could move to have Pruitt pay back a portion of those expenses, though the EPA quickly indicated it had no desire to do so.
Democrats embraced the report as a reminder that while promising to hire “the best people” for his Cabinet, Trump has failed to do so, with many of them having been mired in the very swamp the president promised to drain. “The [Office of Inspector General] investigation confirms the warnings that I and others made at the time about Scott Pruitt’s gross abuse of his public office,” said Don Beyer, D-Va. “Pruitt owes the American people a lot of money and he should pay them back. The OIG report also makes it clear that Pruitt cannot be trusted and should never hold public office again.”
Pruitt was pushed out of his position last summer, as the number of investigations into his conduct reached nearly 20. The breaking point for Trump, however, was when Pruitt began to openly lobby for the job of attorney general, to replace Jeff Sessions, according to a former senior administration official.
Pruitt is now working as an energy lobbyist in Indiana, but simply leaving the federal government did not exactly absolve him of the many ethical transgressions he is alleged to have committed while in Washington.
Thursday’s report was a reminder of Pruitt’s penchant for first-class travel, which was perhaps the most prominent of the myriad scandals and controversies that engulfed him. Others included using EPA staff to conduct real estate searches, abuse of EPA security procedures and personnel, and, perhaps most infamously and confoundingly, demanding a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel.
The new report from the inspector general’s office finds that Pruitt “and his staff incurred an estimated nearly $124,000 in excessive airfare expenses without sufficient justification to support security concerns requiring the use of first- and business-class travel.” The report finds that between March 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2017, Pruitt and his staff booked 40 trips (six of which were canceled) for a total cost of $985,037.
The excessive portion of the total expense was determined to be $123,942. The EPA could now move to recover those funds, as well as additional inappropriate expenses Pruitt incurred in the first six months of 2018, which were his last in the role of EPA administrator. He left the EPA early that July.
“The EPA’s management of its travel program has been a persistent area of concern for the Office of Inspector General,” the EPA’s deputy inspector general, Charles Sheehan, said in a statement. None of President Obama’s EPA administrators, however, faced similar travel-related controversies. Neither has Pruitt’s successor, Andrew Wheeler, who shares many of his anti-environmental convictions.
Wheeler, however, is a consummate Washington operator who has managed to pursue Trump’s deregulatory agenda without attracting attention. “It's no surprise that Scott Pruitt wasted taxpayer money, and it’s a good thing he’s no longer running the Environmental Protection Agency,” Environmental Defense Fund communications director Keith Gaby told Yahoo News. “The problem is that his successor, Andrew Wheeler, has picked up exactly where Pruitt left off, giving industry lobbyists too much power in decision-making, increasing Americans' exposure to pollution and toxic chemicals, and ignoring the threat of climate change.”
The report also found that 16 of Pruitt’s trips allowed him to return to Tulsa, Okla., where his family lives. He also took one trip between Washington, D.C. and New York that cost $1,400. Business class Amtrak tickets for the same route typically run about $400 round trip.
“Mr. Pruitt should repay the taxpayer money that he wasted on his lavish travel expenses, like other Cabinet secretaries have done,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a statement. The reference was seemingly to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who was forced to resign over his misuse of government and private jets. Price paid back $52,000, in what was a doomed attempt to keep his job.
The EPA, for its part, released a statement that seemed to defend Pruitt and dispute the inspector general’s findings. That statement concludes that the EPA believes itself to have “complied with Federal Travel Regulations, making cost recovery inappropriate.”
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