Trump plugs Mar-a-Lago during Japanese PM’s visit

President Trump plugged his Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday at the start of a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — saying that world leaders were clamoring for an invite to his fave Florida destination.

“Many of the world’s great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. They like it. I like it, we’re comfortable, we have great relationships,” Trump said before offering a somewhat patchy history of the storied waterfront property.

“As you remember, we were here and President Xi of China was here. It was originally built as the Southern White House. It was called the Southern White House. It was given to the United States, and then Jimmy Carter decided it was too expensive for the United States so they fortunately for me gave it back and I bought it.”

Mar-a-Lago was built as a residence for Post cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post beginning in 1924.

When she died in 1973, she bequeathed it to the National Park Service in the hopes that it could be used as a “Winter White House.”

But because it was so expensive to maintain, the property was returned to the Post Foundation by Congress in April 1981, when President Reagan was in office. Trump bought it in 1985.

“It was a circuitous route but now indeed it is the Southern White House,” the president continued. “Again, many of the leaders want to be here, they request specifically.”

The president also said that he and Abe would hit the links on Wednesday before holding bilateral discussions on trade, the Koreas and other topics.

Korea is coming along. South Korea is meeting and has plans to meet with North Korea to see if they can end the war and they have my blessing on that,” he said.

“People do not realize the Korean War has not ended. It’s going on right now and they are discussing an end to the war,” Trump said.

The fighting stopped on the peninsula when the parties signed an armistice in 1953, but the war was never officially declared over.

Trump is spending the week at Mar-a-Lago, the 17th time he has visited the resort since taking office.

[New York Post]

Media

Trump Pardons Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s Former Chief of Staff

President Donald Trump pardoned I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Friday, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted in 2005 of perjury and obstruction of justice after a leak that disclosed a CIA agent’s name.

“I don’t know Mr. Libby, but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly,” Trump said in a statement from the White House. “Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.”

ABC News and The Washington Post both reported this week that Trump had been considering the pardon for a few months, but there was no clear timeline for when it might happen.

The chief prosecutor in Libby’s case, Patrick Fitzgerald, also happens to be friends with former FBI Director James Comey.

Libby was charged in 2005 with lying to the FBI, perjury and obstruction of justice following an investigation into who leaked the identity of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative at the time, to various journalists. Libby, according to prosecutors, lied about where he learned of her identity and what he discussed with reporters.

He pleaded not guilty but resigned from his position and was disbarred until 2016. He was also sentenced in 2007 to 30 months in prison and fined $250,000 for his role in the leak case.

President George W. Bush refused to grant a pardon to Libby, despite Cheney pushing for it, although the former president did commute Libby’s 30-month prison sentence.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage eventually admitted in 2006 that he was the one who inadvertently revealed Plame’s identity.

Trump’s most controversial pardon to date was that of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio last August. Arpaio had been convicted of criminal contempt for violating a federal judge’s order to stop detaining individuals the sheriff believed were in the country illegally. Arpaio had a long history of discrimination and unlawful policing toward Hispanics. He’s now running for Senate.

[Huffington Post]

EPA removes staffer who OK’d report on Pruitt’s security

EPA removed a career staffer Tuesday who approved an internal report that undermined Administrator Scott Pruitt’s claims that he needed around-the-clock bodyguards and other expensive security protection, according to two former agency employees familiar with the situation.

Mario Caraballo was the deputy associate administrator of EPA’s Office of Homeland Security, which in February concluded that an earlier assessment failed to identify credible direct threats against the administrator that would justify his heavy security spending.

Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wrote to Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) on Tuesday requesting oversight hearings and quoting the report, making public its doubts about the need for the heightened security.

One source with direct knowledge of Caraballo’s dismissal said the agency claimed he was let go because of a personnel issue from a previous military job nearly a decade ago that had been resolved then and already been reviewed by EPA several years ago. That source said senior officials also were not happy with the report from Caraballo’s office.

“They’re trying right now to just keep pressure on the wound,” the source said. “They’re trying to find out where these leaks are coming from … They’re in full panic mode right now.”

EPA Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Donna Vizian said the agency would not comment on personnel matters. But she added that today’s action “was based on a recommendation by the Office of Administration and Resources Management. I am not aware of any connection between the personnel matter and the document mentioned in media reports.”

A career EPA staffer who has worked with Caraballo described him as a “standout manager,” and a “veteran and dedicated public servant and intelligence official to boot.”

The source predicted Caraballo’s dismissal would stiffen the resolve of Pruitt’s critics within the agency.

“This isn’t going to frighten staff, this is going to embolden us to leak more to get these criminals out,” the employee said Tuesday. “They need to know we’re not intimidated and we’re going to blow the whistle on anything even borderline questionable.”

In their letter to Barrasso, the two Senate Democrats said the records from the EPA, Secret Service and a terrorism task force fail to justify Pruitt’s use of the multimillion-dollar security detail.

Instead, according to the internal EPA memo, the “threats” include protesters attempting to disrupt one of Pruitt’s closed-door speeches, a letter from a prisoner, and a postcard that included the greeting: “CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL!!! We are watching you,” Carper and Whitehouse wrote to Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

The two Democrats demanded oversight hearings into Pruitt’s security spending, citing an internal EPA review, Secret Service threat assessments and a Joint Terrorism Task Force report.

But Barrasso rejected their request, while bashing the two Democrats for releasing “sensitive information.”

“I am deeply troubled that members of the committee would publicly release lawenforcement sensitive information regarding the safety and security of a cabinet member and his family,” Barrasso said in a statement. “This letter selectively quotes non-public documents.”

Barrasso added that “any reasonable reading” of those documents supported a conclusion that Pruitt faced a “variety of direct death threats.”

To the contrary, Carper and Whitehouse said the Secret Service identified no “reports of behaviors of interest” against Pruitt, and internal EPA reviews dispute “the administrator’s claims that the nature of the threats against him justify his expenditures.”

Pruitt has drawn widespread scrutiny for demanding a round-the-clock security detail, flying first-class to limit contact with threatening passengers, and having a soundproof booth installed in his office, among other steps — all of which offered far greater protection and privacy than his predecessors received. The Associated Press, citing an unnamed EPA official, said last week Pruitt’s “total security costs approached $3 million when pay is added to travel expenses.”

EPA has said Pruitt has experienced a sharp increase in threats compared with his immediate predecessor, Obama-era Administrator Gina McCarthy. Among specific incidents, the agency said one person had approached Pruitt in the Atlanta airport while yelling, “Scott Pruitt, you’re f—ing up the environment.”

In one of the nonpublic documents Carper and Whitehouse cited, the EPA Office of Homeland Security‘s intelligence team concluded that an earlier threat assessment prepared by Pruitt’s security team DOES NOT employ sound analysis or articulate relevant ‘threat specific’ information appropriate to draw any resource or level of threat conclusions regarding the protection posture for the administrator,” according to a section of the Feb. 14 memo reproduced in the senators’ letter (emphasis included). The memo concluded that EPA intelligence officials had “not identified any specific credible direct threat to the EPA administrator,” according to the letter.

None of the incidents listed concern air travel, according to the letter.

The senators said the records don’t match public statements from EPA and President Donald Trump, who tweeted Saturday that Pruitt’s expenses are justified.

One view is “that certain factions within EPA have justified the exorbitant taxpayer spending incurred by the administrator’s first-class travel and large entourage of security personnel through unsubstantiated claims about threats to his security, either at the direction of the administrator himself or others in the agency,” the senators said.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said Tuesday that “Scott Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him and these threat assessments are conducted within [Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance] using information collected from the [Protective Service Detail], EPA’s Office of Homeland Security, and Inspector General.“ He pointed to interviews with EPA’s inspector general office discussing an increase in threats compared to the previous administrator’s tenure.

[Politico]

Former staffer: EPA fired him for refusing to OK first-class flight

A former top EPA staffer has told Democratic lawmakers that the agency fired him after he refused to retroactively approve the first-class travel of one of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s closest aides, according to letters made public Thursday.

The dismissed political appointee, Kevin Chmielewski, also alleged that Pruitt flouted price limits on hotel stays and office decor, put an aide to work house-hunting for him, arranged taxpayer-funded trips to his native Oklahoma and other destinations just because he wanted to travel there and lied last week when he denied knowing about backdoor raises the agency had granted to two of his top aides, the lawmakers said Thursday in a letter to the agency.

In addition, Chmielewski detailed allegations of lavish spending on Pruitt’s personal security and a possible conflict of interest involving his top bodyguard, as well a $100,000-per-month private jet rental that he says EPA looked into at Pruitt’s direction. He also said, as POLITICO reported last week, that Pruitt was frequently late in paying the $50-a-night rent on his lobbyist-owned Capitol Hill condo last year.

The lawmakers, including Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), separately wrote to President Donald Trump and urged him to rethink his public support for the embattled EPA chief.

“… [I]t appears you may not have received all the facts surrounding Administrator Pruitt’s spending, security arrangements, travel, living arrangements, and personnel actions, among other things,” they wrote.

Carper and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) separately asked EPA’s inspector general on Thursday to look into Pruitt’s alleged use of four different email accounts at EPA, and whether federal record-keeping laws were followed.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox declined to specifically dispute the allegations from Chmielewski outlined in the letter, saying the agency would respond to the lawmakers “through the proper channel.” When Chmielewski’s dismissal was first reported last week, Wilcox called him one of “a group of disgruntled employees who have either been dismissed or reassigned.”

Chmielewski, a former Trump campaign staffer, was EPA’s deputy chief of staff for operations and handled many of Pruitt’s travel and logistics coordination. He has emerged as the best-known internal agency critic of Pruitt’s lavish spending and other practices, which have led lawmakers of both parties — and key White House aides — to push for the administrator’s firing.

Among his specific charges, Chmielewski told the lawmakers this week that Pruitt had requested that his aide Samantha Dravis, the head of EPA’s Office of Policy, join him in first class on a return flight from Morocco in December, where Pruitt had gone to promote U.S. natural gas.

Chmielewski told the lawmakers he refused to sign paperwork justifying Dravis’ first-class travel “because it violated federal travel regulations,” the Democrats wrote. He said another EPA staffer eventually signed off on the travel retroactively.

Chmielewski said his refusal to bless Dravis’ upgraded travel “appears to him to have been the final straw that caused you to remove him,” the lawmakers wrote to Pruitt. Ryan Jackson, Pruitt’s chief of staff, subsequently informed Chmielewski that Pruitt “wished to fire or reassign him,” they wrote.

Dravis disputed Chmielewski’s allegations, telling POLITICO that she never spoke with him about the upgrade approval, that she did not request the upgrade and that it was not approved retroactively. Dravis said she flew coach for three of the four legs of the trip, and was upgraded to business class for one of them in keeping with federal regulations about travel exceeding 14 hours.

Democrats and environmental groups have questioned the entire purpose of the Morocco trip, noting that EPA’s mission doesn’t include promoting U.S. natural gas exports. Energy Secretary Rick Perry declined to weigh in on that issue at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Thursday, saying it would be “a little inappropriate for me to be making a public or private observation” about whether Pruitt’s trip was justified.

Chmielewski also disputed Pruitt’s statement last week to Fox News that he did not know about raises that two of his aides, who had accompanied him to EPA from Oklahoma, received despite the White House’s disapproval. Pruitt told Fox that the raises were entirely carried out by unidentified staffers, and that he was correcting the matter after learning of it.

But Chmielewski said the raises were “100% Pruitt himself,” according to a quote included in the Democrats’ letter.

Chmielewski told the lawmakers that his dismissal came in February when the head of Pruitt’s security detail, Nino Perrotta, asked him to give up his government credentials when he returned to the agency after an unrelated overseas trip with Vice President Mike Pence.

According to the letter, Jackson told Chmielewski that Pruitt wanted him removed and one of the Oklahoma aides, Millan Hupp, promoted to his job and pay scale. Chmielewski said the White House would not approve of that arrangement, but that he later was removed and Hupp received the promotion and pay raise via special hiring authority in the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Other allegations made by Chmielewski, according to the letters, include:

— Pruitt’s security detail has purchased bulletproof vests, weapons and biometric locks and new SUVs to transport Pruitt, as opposed to getting vehicles via the General Services Administration. Chmielewski also alleges EPA has awarded security contracts to at least one person who works at the private security firm run by Perrotta.

— Pruitt had Hupp search for housing during work hours.

— Pruitt spent more than the $5,000 legal limit to redecorate his office.

— EPA staff, at Pruitt’s direction, considered a $100,000-per month private jet rental for the administrator. Chmielewski “claimed he successfully prevented this from occurring, as it would have been far in excess of the total travel budget of the office,” the Democrats wrote.

— Pruitt allegedly sought to travel to certain destinations and would ask EPA staff to find official business there to justify the taxpayer-funded trips. Chmielewski also says Pruitt told staff to find official reasons for him to be in or near Oklahoma to spend long weekends at home there.

— Pruitt “frequently” stayed in pricey hotels that exceeded allowable per diem spending, and that while Pruitt was reimbursed even when costs went over a 300 percent cap for exceptional circumstances, his bodyguards sometimes were not.

— Pruitt declined to plan to stay at hotels recommended by U.S. embassies during two planned international trips, choosing instead “more expensive hotels with fewer standard security resources.”

“The new information provided by Mr. Chmielewski, if accurate, leaves us certain that your leadership at EPA has been fraught with numerous and repeated unethical and potentially illegal actions on a wide range of consequential matters that you and some members of your staff directed,” the lawmakers wrote to Pruitt in asking for more documents.

Besides Carper and Whitehouse, the letters were signed by Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.).

[Politico]

EPA officials demoted, removed after voicing complaints about Scott Pruitt

At least five officials at the Environmental Protection Agency were demoted, removed, reassigned, put on leave or asked for new jobs after voicing concerns about embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Pruitt is in hot water after dominating the news cycle this week with reports that he lived in a condo belonging to the wife of a lobbyist, and that two of his top aides received hefty raises. Those stories follow others from earlier this year about Pruitt’s expensive travel. CBS News’ Julianna Goldman also reported Thursday that the agent in charge of Pruitt’s security detail was reassigned shortly after objecting to Pruitt’s desire to use sirens and lights when there was traffic, and he was late to a business meeting.

The New York Times reported that some EPA officials objected to office furniture spending, first-class travel, and additional security coverage — including a 20-person protective detail. One of the officials, political appointee Kevin Chmielewski, was placed on administrative leave without pay, the Times reported, citing two people familiar with the situation. Chmielewski, the Times reported, had voiced some of his concerns about Pruitt to the White House’s presidential personnel office.

Two other officials, career officials Reginald Allen and Eric Weese, were placed in jobs where they had less authority in spending decisions and interaction with the administrator when they expressed their concerns, the Times reported. And another career official, John Reeder, took a position with American University after the EPA told him to take a new job, according to the Times.

A spokesman for the EPA disputed the Times’ version of events.

“This is a group of disgruntled employees who have either been dismissed or reassigned,” said EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox.

Wilcox also responded to a New York Times story claiming Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, is considering leaving.

“EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson, is committed to advancing President Trump’s agenda of regulatory certainty and environmental stewardship and continues to do so under Administrator Pruitt’s leadership,” Wilcox said.

Stories about Pruitt have made headlines since last week, when ABC News first reported Pruitt last year lived in a condo belonging to the wife of a Washington lobbyist. As CBS News has reported, the condo cost Pruitt $50 a night, and he only paid for nights when he was in town. Pruitt has insisted the arrangement was signed off on by an ethics official. In an interview with Fox News’ Ed Henry Thursday night, Pruitt also addressed a report from The Atlantic that two staff members received hefty salary increases. Pruitt blamed whoever made that decision to give the raises, which he said he knew nothing about at the time, and said he had fixed the problem.

“I’m fixing the problem,” Pruitt told Henry.

An EPA spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Trump, at least publicly, is standing by Pruitt. The White House is reviewing Pruitt’s actions.

On Air Force One heading from West Virginia to Washington, D.C., Thursday, Mr. Trump called Pruitt a “good man.”

“I have to look at them,” Mr. Trump said of the claims against Pruitt. “…I’ll make that determination. But he’s a good man, he’s done a terrific job. But I’ll take a look at it.”

[CBS News]

Ivanka Trump’s clothing company will be spared from tariffs, thanks to her dad

The steel and aluminum industries in China will soon be slapped with tariffs up to $50 billion by President Donald Trump. On Thursday, after China announced their intentions to retaliate against the United States with $50 billion in tariffs of their own against U.S. goods, Trump warned that his administration would respond with another set of tariffs, this time targeting $100 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Exempt from the proposed tariffs against China, however, is the clothing manufacturing industry.

U.S. officials say they used an algorithm to determine which goods to exclude from new tariffs. According to the Washington Post, the list was drafted to achieve “the lowest consumer impact,” ensuring goods like clothing and toys were excluded so as not to raise the cost on domestic consumer goods.

Exempting clothing from the tariffs provides a big break to American clothing companies that hold trademarks in China. One of those clothing companies belongs to the First Daughter of the United States, Ivanka Trump.

A recent report by the Huffington Post found that the president’s daughter and closest adviser rakes in a total of $1.5 million a year from the Trump Organization while still working at the White House.

Her dual role as adviser to the president and private business executive has continuously raised ethical red flags. No one can be entirely sure that public policy by this administration isn’t being driven by business motives, or whether countries may pursue business deals with the Trump family as a means to curry political favor with the administration.

The clearest example of this ethical line-blurring comes from early in the Trump presidency, when Ivanka dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Trump family’s resort in West Palm Beach on the same day China approved three new trademarks for Ivanka’s company.

[ThinkProgress]

EPA: ‘Zero Records’ of Any Death Threats Against Scott Pruitt, Despite Trump Tweet

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) apparently has no evidence of any death threats made against agency head Scott Pruitt, despite allegations to the contrary, including a recent tweet from President Donald Trump.

According to numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by various media outlets and reporters, the conservation-themed agency has “zero records” responsive to inquiries regarding any and all death threats made against the embattled agency director.

BuzzFeed News‘ senior investigative Reporter Jason Leopold noted this records-related discrepancy in a tweet sent late Saturday afternoon. He wrote:

I had filed a #FOIA with EPA for any records of death threats made against Scott Pruitt. EPA said it had zero records.

Leopold then suggested that maybe the agency was just lying to him about those threats. In a later tweet, addressing possible criticism of his methods, Leopold clarified that those FOIA requests were lodged with both the EPA’s headquarters and Inspector General’s office.

The Washington Post and Associated Press previously conducted similar investigations into these alleged death threats against Pruitt, but both news agencies came up empty-handed as well.

Officials speaking on behalf of Pruitt have frequently cited to alleged death threats against him when pressed to account for the unprecedentedly expensive–and oftentimes lavish–spending requests issued by Pruitt and his inner circle. EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the following in comments to Fox News on Sunday:

According to EPA’s Assistant Inspector General, Scott Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him and his family. Americans should all agree that members of the president’s Cabinet should be kept safe from these violent threats.

That may not be entirely accurate.

Patrick Sullivan is the EPA’s current assistant inspector general. Sullivan is the agency official tasked with investigating any threats made against EPA personnel. A September 14, 2017 E&E News story by reporter Kevin Bogardus noted that Sullivan had opened at least four investigations into alleged threats against Pruitt. None of those alleged threats, however, were characterized as “death threats” by either Sullivan or Bogardus in the story, which was itself based on various FOIA-obtained documents provided by the EPA.

In comments to the energy and environmental policy-focused publication, Sullivan said, “I can tell you we have more than three investigations. That’s for sure.” When pressed to explain the outcome of one of those investigations, Sullivan said, “It was not a direct threat. It was an implied threat that contained obscene language.”

“The U.S. attorney’s office determined that there was no probable cause to meet the statute and there was no crime committed, so they declined,” he added.

The author of that “implied threat” sent Pruitt a postcard and later apologized to EPA agents for doing so. Another postcard addressed to Pruitt called the agency director an “evil” and “ignorant fuck,” but was also determined not to contain any sort of legally cognizable threat and was ultimately dismissed by Sullivan and his investigative team.

In a New York Times report from last Thursday by reporters Eric Lipton, Kenneth P. Vogel and Lisa Friedman, Wilcox allegedly said, “They run the variety of direct death threats — ‘I’m going to put a bullet in your brain’ — to implied threats — ‘If you don’t classify this particular chemical in this particular way, I’m going to hurt you.”

It is presently unclear exactly which threats Wilcox is referencing in the above-quoted language–but some of those alleged threats bear similarities to previous threats noted by Sullivan in the E&E story: except those direct threats were made against Obama era EPA chief Gina McCarthy.

An Associated Press story released mid-morning Monday revealed that EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins has launched at least five separate probes into Pruitt’s controversial conduct.

[Law and Crime]

Trump bragged that his tower withstood a fire — but has been silent about the man who died in it

Depending on whom you followed more closely, there were two accounts of the fire Saturday night that tore through a 50th-floor apartment in Trump Tower, President Trump’s namesake building on Fifth Avenue in New York.

The first narrative unfolded through official alerts and images from the New York Fire Department, which painted a picture of an extraordinarily challenging — and ultimately fatal — blaze to contain and extinguish.

The fire broke out just before 6 p.m. Saturday, officials said. Soon, flames could be seen making their way across the unit as dark plumes of smoke billowed upward, obstructing many of the floors above.

By the time firefighters arrived at the 50th floor of the building, they found “the apartment was entirely on fire,” New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Saturday.

Forcing their way into the unit, firefighters pulled out one person, unconscious and unresponsive, who had been trapped inside, Nigro added.

The man was taken to the hospital in critical condition, police said. He later died.

In all, six firefighters — of the roughly 200 or so who had responded — suffered minor injuries fighting the blaze, Nigro said.

For the president, however, the fire seemed first a chance to boast of the construction quality of Trump Tower on Twitter, his preferred method of communicating with the public.

“Very confined (well built building),” Trump tweeted Saturday, about an hour after the fire broke out. “Firemen (and women) did a great job. THANK YOU!”

Trump also declared that the fire had been extinguished — before it actually had been.

The fire was still not considered to be under control then because of smoke conditions above the 50th floor, Nigro said Saturday. It was brought under control shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday, about an hour after Trump’s tweet, fire officials said.

[Washington Post]

Scott Pruitt Bypassed the White House to Give Big Raises to Favorite Aides

In early March, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt approached the White House with a request: He wanted substantial pay raises for two of his closest aides.

The aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, were part of the small group of staffers who had traveled with Pruitt to Washington from Oklahoma, where he had served as attorney general. Greenwalt, a 30-year-old who had worked as Pruitt’s general counsel in Oklahoma, was now his senior counsel at the EPA. Hupp, 26, was working on his political team before she moved to D.C. to become the agency’s scheduling director.

Pruitt asked that Greenwalt’s salary be raised from $107,435 to $164,200; Hupp’s, from $86,460 to $114,590. Because both women were political appointees, he needed the White House to sign-off on their new pay.

According to a source with direct knowledge of the meeting, held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, staffers from the Presidential Personnel Office dismissed Pruitt’s application. The White House, the source said, declined to approve the raises.

So Pruitt found another way.

A provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act allows the EPA administrator to hire up to 30 people into the agency, without White House or congressional approval. The provision, meant to help expedite the hiring of experts and allow for more flexible staffing, became law in 1996. In past administrations, it has been used to hire specialists into custom-made roles in especially stressed offices, according to Bob Perciasepe, a former acting EPA administrator.

After the White House rejected their request, Pruitt’s team studied the particulars of the Safe Drinking Water provision, according to the source with direct knowledge of these events. By reappointing Greenwalt and Hupp under this authority, they learned, Pruitt could exercise total control over their contracts and grant the raises on his own.

Pruitt ordered it done. Though Hupp and Greenwalt’s duties did not change, the agency began processing them for raises of $28,130 and $56,765, respectively, compared with their 2017 salaries. Less than two weeks after Pruitt had approached the White House, according to time-stamped Human Resources documents shared with The Atlantic, the paperwork was finished.

Word of the raises quickly began to circulate through the agency. The episode infuriated some staffers; to some political aides, it was evidence of Pruitt’s disregard for the White House’s warnings to cabinet officials that they avoid even the appearance of impropriety. It also underscored the administrator’s tendency to play favorites among his staff, according to two sources with direct knowledge of agency dynamics. Hupp, in particular, is making more than her Obama-era predecessor, a five-year veteran of the agency who did not break six figures until the final year of the administration, according to public records. (While Greenwalt has no obvious peer in the Obama administration, the EPA’s general counsel had an annual salary of $155,500 in 2016.)

Said one EPA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press: “This whole thing has completely gutted any morale I had left to put up with this place.”

“The Safe Drinking Water Act provides the EPA with broad authority to appoint scientific, engineering, professional, legal, and administrative positions within EPA without regard to the civil service laws. This is clear authority that has been relied on by previous administrations,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement. “The Administrator was not aware that these personnel actions had not been submitted to the Presidential Personnel Office. So, the Administrator has directed that they be submitted to the Presidential Personnel Office for review.”

The White House did not return requests for comment.

[The Atlantic]

Oil lobbyist linked to EPA secretary Scott Pruitt’s cheap DC condo rental had pipeline project approved

After his wife rented a Washington, D.C. condo to Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt for $50 a night, a Canadian oil lobbyist had his pipeline project approved by the department.

The New York Times reported Monday that the firm led by J. Stephen Hart, whose wife Vicki rented the condo to Pruitt, successfully lobbied the EPA to approve the Alberta Clipper pipeline in March 2017. The approval came despite Enbridge Inc. — a Calgary-based company that Hart’s firm Williams & Jensen lobbied for — being fined $61 million by the agency towards the end of Barack Obama’s presidency.

A spokesperson for Williams & Jensen told the Times that they did not interfere with the EPA or Pruitt before or after the administrator’s stay in the Hart condo. The company also said “it had not worked on similar regulatory issues for Enbridge in the past year, even though it was registered at the time as lobbying for the company on ‘issues affecting pipelines and construction of new pipelines,’” the report noted.

Shortly after the Times broke the story about the Alberta Clipper pipeline, Politico reported that White House chief of staff John Kelly has considered firing Pruitt — once considered to be a replacement for Attorney General Jeff Sessions — over this latest scandal.

The Daily Beast also reported Monday night that the owners of the townhome Pruitt rented hosted GOP fundraisers when he was living there.

[Raw Story]

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