Trump’s pick for EPA already rolling back climate change protections

Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist who is now acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was a “driving force” behind the agenda of Sen. James Inhofe, who called climate change a “hoax,” according to people familiar with Wheeler’s work for the senator.

President Donald Trump has said he intends to nominate Wheeler as the head of the EPA, and in the past five months as acting administrator, Wheeler has moved aggressively to roll back key environmental regulations, prompting critics and environmentalists to say he is fast confirming their worst fears for the agency’s future.

Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, is an outspoken climate change skeptic who was at different times chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Inhofe told CNN last year the EPA was “brainwashing our kids,” and famously once brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to demonstrate his belief that global warming isn’t real.

Inhofe said in a 2003 Senate speech, “I have offered compelling evidence that catastrophic global warming is a hoax,” adding, “the claim that global warming is caused by man-made emissions is simply untrue and not based on sound science.”

Wheeler worked for Inhofe for 14 years, and was his chief counsel and staff director. In that role, Wheeler would have overseen hearings Inhofe held and approved reports Inhofe issued claiming humans have no direct impact on climate change, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. In videos of committee hearings at the time, Wheeler is often seen whispering in Inhofe’s ear and handing him paperwork. In the 2008 “Almanac of the Unelected,” Wheeler’s job is described as “to work on (Inhofe’s) agenda for the committee.”

At a Washington Post forum last week, Wheeler said, “I believe … that man does … have an impact on the climate. That CO2 has an impact on the climate and we do take that seriously.” At the same forum, he admitted he had not read the climate change report released by his agency, which outlined dire warnings of the impact of global warming.

Elizabeth Gore, who was chief of staff for Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, and is now a senior vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund, told CNN that Wheeler “was very high profile, he was a driving force behind Inhofe’s very dangerous agenda to attack climate change and undermine the policies that would protect us from carbon pollution.”

Wheeler declined CNN’s request for an interview, but in a statement the EPA said in part that the activing administrator, “has made it abundantly clear on multiple occasions … that humans have an impact on the climate.” An EPA official also said, “Mr. Wheeler was deeply honored to work for Senator Inhofe in several capacities, however Mr. Wheeler did not write and was not the architect of the Senator’s climate science speeches.”

Wheeler is one of six top EPA officials who either worked directly for Inhofe or on the Senate’s Energy and Public Works Committee. Others are Wheeler’s chief of staff, his principal deputy assistant administrator, his assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance, a senior adviser for policy and an associate administrator for policy. An EPA official said the staffers started working at EPA before Wheeler arrived.

Wheeler moved to the EPA’S top slot in July after then-Administrator Scott Pruitt was forced to resign amid numerous investigations, including questions surrounding his altering of federal documents, over-spending, use of security and other numerous scandals.

Like his former boss, Wheeler is seen to be focused on reversing regulations that protect the nation’s air and water and instead promoting the wishes of the industries impacted by those regulations. Critics fear that Wheeler, who works quietly behind the scenes and knows how to get things done in Washington, is more dangerous to the nation’s health than the scandal-plagued Pruitt ever was.

Michael Gerrard, faculty director of Columbia Law School’s Climate Deregulation Tracker, which follows government deregulation, believes Wheeler will be more successful at reversing environmental protections, “because he understands the administrative and legal process better and he does not have all the craziness of Pruitt’s personal proclivities that got in the way of his effectiveness.”

From 2009 until he joined the EPA last year, Wheeler was a lobbyist for energy, mining and coal companies. Bob Murray, the powerful CEO of Murray Energy, paid Wheeler’s lobbying firm nearly $3 million to, among other things, help the coal baron get access to major decision makers, such as a meeting in March 2017 with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

When Trump was elected, Murray Energy drafted an “action plan” for the Trump administration, essentially a wish list to get the Environmental Protection Agency off the coal industry’s back.

“Not a whole lot has changed from Pruitt to Wheeler,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who has demanded the inspector general investigate Murray’s wish list and Wheeler’s ties to industry. “Now more than ever, Trump’s EPA takes its marching orders from fossil fuel and other polluting industries. While Wheeler may not try to finagle a fast food franchise for his wife, he’s no different from Pruitt when it comes to shilling for industry and pushing whatever policies they want.”

The EPA said in a statement, “Mr. Wheeler did not lobby the Trump EPA while working for Murray Energy nor did he did work on the action plan or receive a copy of the memo.”

But in the five months since Wheeler has taken over, the EPA has pulled back on regulating the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, coal plants and motor vehicles.

Gerrard told CNN, “Wheeler is carrying out a wish-list of the industry lobbyists who wanted to shut down the environmental regulations, as he himself was a lobbyist with exactly the same objective. But now he is in the driver’s seat.”

In August, the EPA published the “Affordable Clean Energy” plan, designed to replace the Clean Power Plan, which was the Obama administration’s key measure to address climate change. The new rule sets far less stringent emission guidelines.

That same month, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a proposed rule to weaken car emissions and fuel economy standards. And in September, the EPA published a proposed rule weakening methane emission standards for some oil and gas production and changing requirements on leak repairs.

At the Washington Post forum, Wheeler said the Trump administration deserves credit for a decline in carbon emissions. “In the first year of the Trump administration, we’ve seen a 2.7% reduction in CO2 from 2016 to 2017,” he said.

Asked to name three EPA policies that are contributing to cleaner air, Wheeler struggled to answer. “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to give three off the top of my head,” he said. Of the three he later listed, two are proposed regulations that would dial-back back Obama-era rules that aimed to reduce pollution.

[CNN]

Ivanka Trump made $3.9 million from D.C. hotel in 2017

President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump made $3.9 million in profit last year off her stake in the Trump International Hotel, while taking in at least $5 million from businesses connected to her personal brand, a newly released financial disclosure shows.

Ivanka Trump also reported taking in about $2 million in 2017 pay and severance from an entity called the Trump Payroll Corp., the disclosure said.

She received $289,000 in an advance for her book published last year, “Women Who Work,” and donated those funds to a charitable trust she oversees that “will make grants to organizations that empower and educate women and girls.” There was no indication that she received royalties in connection with the book in 2017.

The figures come from forms that high-ranking and highly paid federal employees are required to file every year in May.

Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, are serving as senior advisers to the president without pay, but they have agreed to abide by ethics requirements for senior White House staff.

On Monday, as President Trump was in Singapore for the high-profile summit with North Korea‘s leader, Kim Jong Un, the White House began releasing the forms covering last year.

Ivanka Trump’s reported income from the hotel in calendar year 2017 was up substantially from a report she filed last spring showing about $2.4 million in income from the hotel since it opened in September 2016.

The forms provide only limited insight into the finances of individuals as wealthy as Ivanka Trump and Kushner. Amounts are typically reported in broad ranges. Also complicating comparisons is the fact that last year’s filings for new government staffers covered a 16-month period.

Disclosure forms filed earlier this year appeared to show an uptick in the couple’s debts as they entered the White House last year. It’s unclear whether that trend continued through the end of the year.

The president’s son-in-law’s filing no longer lists under assets or income his role with Observer Media, the New York-based online news organization he founded in 2007. Kushner reported earning $4.5 million from advertising revenue at the company in 2017 but stepped down last January when he joined the Trump White House.

In this year’s form, Kushner said he divested his ownership in Observer Media, though he also reported making between $100,001 and $1 million in capital gains. Kushner’s form says he does still own between $5,000,001 and $25,000,000 in stock shares for Source Media Holdings, a digital media company owned by Observer Capital that serves business professionals working in the financial, technology and health care sectors.

President Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, reported taking in $569,423 in salary from Fox News from the beginning of last year until he joined the White House in April.

Bolton also earned nearly $750,000 in speaking fees during the same period — $115,000 for speaking to conferences sponsored by the Ukrainian steel mogul Victor Pinchuk.

Pinchuk’s donations of more than $13 million to the Clinton Foundation drew criticism and, during the 2016 campaign, were painted by many Clinton critics as evidence of corruption.

In September 2015, then-candidate Trump spoke to a Pinchuk conference in Kiev in exchange for a $150,000 donation to the Donald J. Trump foundation.

Bolton’s highest reported fee for a single speech, $100,000, came in May 2017 while receiving a Guardian of Zion award from the Rennert Center in Jerusalem. The next highest was a speech earlier that month to Deutsche Bank for $72,000, after a commission paid to his agent, the Washington Speakers Bureau.

[Politico]

Trump’s IRS nominee didn’t disclose properties in Trump-branded hotel

President Donald Trump’s pick to run the IRS, tax lawyer Chuck Rettig, owns properties at the Trump International Hotel Waikiki and Tower.

He’d previously disclosed his 50 percent stake in a pair of Honolulu rental units, but not their specific location. That detail was discussed later, at a June 21 meeting with congressional staff, according to a memo obtained by POLITICO.

Trump typically gets fees on sales for licensing his name.

The document was circulated Wednesday to Senate Finance Committee members ahead of their hearing on Rettig’s nomination, scheduled for Thursday.

“The nominee did disclose these properties, but not their location,” the memo said of Rettig’s original answers to financial disclosure questions that ask nominees to list assets and sources of income that exceed $1,000.

The revelation about the Trump-branded hotel seems certain to come up when Rettig testifies.

“Committee staff raised this at the nominee’s June 21st due diligence meeting,” the memo said. “The nominee plans to provide more detail on his Committee Questionnaire to include the full name of the property.”

[Politico]

Scott Pruitt Sought ‘Business Opportunity’ With Chick-fil-A While Leading E.P.A.

Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, gave a political aide the task of helping him seek a “business opportunity” for his wife with the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A.

Emails released to the Sierra Club under the Freedom of Information Act show that Sydney Hupp, a former scheduler for Mr. Pruitt, contacted Chick-fil-A’s chief executive, Dan T. Cathy, in May 2017 at Mr. Pruitt’s behest to set up a meeting.

After a back-and-forth in which Ms. Hupp initially said the administrator “didn’t mention a specific topic” of discussion, she told the company’s director of regulatory affairs that Mr. Pruitt’s request was of a personal nature. “The Administrator would like to talk about a potential business opportunity with Mr. Cathy. Nothing very pressing, just hoping to connect sometime in the next month or so,” Ms. Hupp wrote.

Mr. Pruitt ultimately spoke by phone with Chick-fil-A representatives.

Mr. Cathy, reached by phone, referred questions to a company spokeswoman, Carrie Kurlander. Ms. Kurlander said she would not comment further. In an email to The Washington Post, which first reported Mr. Pruitt’s effort to seek a business deal with Chick-fil-A, Ms. Kurlander had said the call was about the possibility of Mr. Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn, opening a franchise of the fast food chain. Ms. Kurlander told the Post that Mrs. Pruitt never completed the franchisee application.

Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the E.P.A., did not respond to a request for comment.

Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director, said in a statement that Mr. Pruitt had been engaged in “unethically and illegally seeking personal benefits because of the job Donald Trump has entrusted him with.”

The revelation that Mr. Pruitt asked an E.P.A. employee to help coordinate efforts to seek a personal business opportunity comes amid a wave of investigations into the administrator’s spending and management decisions including his first-class travel and spending on security, as well as his decision last year to accept a $50-a-night lease on a condominium from the wife of a lobbyist with business before his agency. Currently Mr. Pruitt faces 12 federal investigations.

 

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/06/05/climate/pruitt-epa-chick-fil-a.html

Trump Calls on Justice Department to Release Mueller Probe Documents: ‘Drain the Swamp!’

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to tout his latest theory that the “FBI or DOJ was infiltrating” his campaign during the 2016 election in order to sabotage it and allow for a Hillary Clinton victory.

This latest theory is based on a New York Times report that revealed the FBI launched an incredibly secretive investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016 and used an informant to glean info from four campaign affiliates: Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and George Papadopoulos.

That report was seized on by the Russia investigation’s chief critics in the media who argued it was evidence the FBI spied on the Trump campaign with the malicious intent of setting then-candidate Trump up and bringing him down (they clearly did not do a very good job of it, but that’s apparently beside the point). Trump himself has enjoyed this narrative, tweeting about it often, if always in the conditional.

Trump tweeted — erroneously, as no one reported that the informant was “implanted” into his campaign — on Friday:

“Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president. It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a ‘hot’ Fake News story. If true – all time biggest political scandal!”

Trump again wheeled out the “If” in his latest tweet Saturday evening:

“If the FBI or DOJ was infiltrating a campaign for the benefit of another campaign, that is a really big deal,” he wrote. “Only the release or review of documents that the House Intelligence Committee (also, Senate Judiciary) is asking for can give the conclusive answers. Drain the Swamp!”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has been engaged in a tense showdown with the Department of Justice over documents he has demanded that relate to special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties.

The DOJ has refused to hand over the documents, arguing they could endanger an intelligence source, Politico reported.

Now, while the New York Times and the Washington Post have omitted the name of that intelligence source from their reporting, it has become abundantly clear who he is. Hell, the Daily Caller reported on him three months ago, so the cat’s pretty much out of the bag.

[Mediaite]

Trump lauds Indiana GOP Senate candidate, knocks Donnelly as ‘Sleepin’ Joe’

President Trump on Thursday night heaped praise on newly minted Indiana GOP Senate nominee Mike Braun while escalating attacks on his opponent, incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).

During a campaign rally in Elkhart, Ind., Trump lauded Braun as an effective businessman and someone who will be a loyal backer of the president’s agenda while characterizing Donnelly as simply awaiting marching orders from Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“This November Indiana will face an important choice: you can send a really incredible swamp person back to the Senate like Joe Donnelly, or you can send us a Republican like Mike Braun to drain the swamp,” Trump said, adding Donnelly “will do whatever Chuck Schumer and [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi tell him what to do.”

“If Joe Donnelly, Sleepin’ Joe and the Democrats, get back into power, remember what I said: they will raise your taxes, they will destroy your jobs, and they are going to knock the hell out of your borders,” he added.

Trump took repeated jabs at Donnelly as Republicans target the vulnerable incumbent, one of 10 Senate Democrats running for reelection this year in states that Trump carried in the 2016 election.

The president on Thursday railed against the Democratic senator for his opposition the GOP’s tax plan and efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare while underscoring Braun’s business experience.

“Mike Braun will be a great, great representative of the people of Indiana,” Trump said. “He’s a winner and very successful businessman.”

Trump invited Braun up to the stage, where the Republican nominee touted his support for the president, an issue that dominated the contentious Senate GOP primary that ended Tuesday.

“I’m a businessman and outsider just like our president, and you can count on me to be a true reinforcement and the guy who’s going to retire Joe Donnelly,” Braun said.

The decision to hold a rally two days after Braun won is seen as a way to unify Republicans after a brutal primary.

Republicans see Donnelly’s seat as a top pickup opportunity and a chance to expand their slim 51-seat majority.

But Braun, a former state legislator, endured attacks about his business record and self-funding during the primary that Democrats have already seized on ahead of the general election.

And Democrats sought to neutralize the president’s attacks ahead of his Thursday rally. Hours before Trump’s visit to Indiana, Donnelly’s campaign launched a TV ad that highlights his bipartisan work in Washington.

“It’s okay that the President and Vice President are here today for politics, but problems only get solved when you roll up your sleeves and put in the hard work,” Donnelly said in a statement after the rally. “I’m Indiana’s hired help in the Senate because I don’t work for any president or any political party – I work for Hoosiers, and that will never change.”

Vice President Pence, a former Indiana governor, touted Braun at the rally Thursday night, lauding the Senate nominee as a job creator and a stronger supporter of Trump’s agenda. The vice president also ticked through a list of votes where Donnelly didn’t align with Trump.

“Hoosiers … deserve to know when the president asked Joe Donnelly to support policies Indiana needs, Joe Donnelly voted no,” Pence said Thursday night. “Mike Braun will stand up for Hoosiers, and Mike Braun will stand with President Trump.”

Trump and Republicans are facing strong headwinds ahead of November. The president’s party historically loses seats in the first midterm election. Plus, Trump’s underwater approval ratings could hurt GOP incumbents running in competitive districts and states.

But Trump has expressed confidence that Republicans will do well in the November midterms. And he’s made repeated overtures to voters to not get “complacent” in the fall so that Republicans can protect their majorities in the House and Senate.

“It’s all at stake in November,” Trump said. “The strides that we’re making—it can also disappear if you put fools and if you put the wrong people in.”

“You have to work everyday from now and until November to elect more Republicans to continue making America great again.”

[The Hill]

Scott Pruitt and a crew of EPA aides spent four days in Morocco promoting natural gas

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt returned Wednesday from a trip to Morocco, where he talked with officials about their interest in importing natural gas as well as other areas of “continued cooperation” between the two countries.

The EPA disclosed the trip late Tuesday, issuing a media release that included photos and a statement from Pruitt saying that the visit “allowed us to directly convey our priorities and best practices with Moroccan leaders.”

“We are committed to working closely with countries like Morocco to enhance environmental stewardship around the world,” Pruitt said.

The purpose of the trip sparked questions from environmental groups, Democratic lawmakers and some industry experts, who noted that EPA plays no formal role in overseeing natural gas exports. Such activities are overseen primarily by the Energy Department and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Pruitt took along seven aides and an undisclosed number of staff from his protective detail. The group included four political aides, including Samantha Dravis, associate administrator of the Office of Policy, and senior advisers Sarah Greenwalt and Lincoln Ferguson, as well as one career official, Jane Nishida, principal deputy assistant administrator of the Office of International and Tribal Affairs. Pruitt’s head of security determines how many advance staffers travel on any given trip, EPA officials said, and in this instance it was two.

At the request of Senate Democrats, the EPA inspector general is looking into Pruitt’s use of military and private flights, as well as his frequent visits to his home state of Oklahoma during his first few months on the job.

“It seems strange that Administrator Pruitt would prioritize a trip to Morocco to discuss natural gas exports while there is no shortage of more pressing issues here in the U.S. that actually fall within the jurisdiction of the agency he leads,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “I presume Mr. Pruitt is aware his agency’s inspector general is conducting an investigation into his questionable travel, which makes his decision to take this trip an odd choice at best.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement that Pruitt “acts like he is a globe-trotting salesman for the fossil fuel industry who can make taxpayers foot the bill.”

Pruitt traveled in business class for three flights, according to an individual who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an internal agency matter, and in economy class for two flights. Asked about the travel arrangements, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox replied in an email, “Due to concerns from our security team, Administrator Pruitt was granted a waiver by EPA’s Chief Financial Officer to fly business-class.”

Wilcox said he could not provide the trip’s total cost because the travelers’ arrangements were booked through their respective departments.

Pruitt met with three top Moroccan officials, according to the agency statement, including the minister of energy, mines and sustainable development; the minister of justice and liberties; and the secretary of state to the minister of foreign affairs. Wilcox said Pruitt “discussed our bilateral free trade agreement, solid waste response, disaster relief and communications with top Moroccan officials.”

His visit came shortly after the EPA held a workshop in Rabat about solid waste management, public participation and crisis communication.

Morocco, the only African country with which the United States has a free-trade agreement, is a signatory to the 2015 Paris climate agreement and has collaborated in the past with U.S. officials on its push to expand domestic solar energy production. During the trip, Moroccan officials took Pruitt on a tour of the IRESEN Green Energy Park, which the EPA said showed the administrator “firsthand the work being done to promote environmental innovation, including solar energy across Morocco.”

[Washington Post]

Trump Official Blames Obama for His $1 Million Office Redesign

Since the Trump administration moved in last year, there’s been an unspoken competition among Cabinet officials to spend as much taxpayer money as possible in the most questionable of ways. A favorite among the group, of course, has been refusing to come within 20 feet of coach, insisting instead on flying business or first class or, hell, just renting a private plane or borrowing a jet from the government. Also popular? Dropping tens of thousands—and in some cases hundreds of thousands—on office redesigns as though they’re Fortune 100 C.E.O.s and not government bureaucrats.

Over at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, whose department had its funding slashed in the latest White House budget, dropped $31,000 on a dining set for “safety” reasons. At the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, the front-runner for Most Blatantly Corrupt Trump Official, invoiced taxpayers for a “brown maple wood stand-up desk with brass locks,” a second “oversize desk with decorative woodworking that some E.P.A. employees compared to the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office” (cost of refurbishment: $2,075), and a nearly $43,000 soundproof phone booth, which, it turns out, was illegal for him to purchase without notifying Congress first. And to round out the club, on Tuesday afternoon we learned that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, one of the people responsible for dragging us into a trade war with China, spent nearly $1 million to redecorate two of his offices.

According to the New York Post, Lighthizer spent $3,500 of taxpayer money on an antique desk, $859 on a hugely important 30-inch “Executive Office of the President” plaque, and $830 to “transport and install two paintings on loan from the Smithsonian.” In addition, he paid Executive Furniture of Washington, D.C., which specializes in high-end furniture and wood-finished desks, a whopping $475,000. For his staff, he splurged on 60 sit-stand desks ($18,500), a modular wall system ($290,000), and 90 Herman Miller Aeron office chairs ($54,000). But if you thought Lighthizer would take responsibility for the expenditures, think again:

When asked about the spending spree, Lighthizer’s office pointed the finger at the Obama administration.

“The furniture purchases are the culmination of a longtime, planned project that began under the Obama administration to replace two-decade-old furniture,” Lighthizer’s office said in a statement.

(An official from Lighthizer’s office further explained to The Hive: “Ambassador Lighthizer did not direct these expenditures, which were planned and executed consistent with career staff’s spending authority. All furnishings were acquired through Executive Office of the President contracting procedures. In my opinion as a senior career official responsible for developing and implementing this project, these funds were critical for continuing to execute effectively USTR’s mission.”)

Obama-era, unsurprisingly reps were having none of this explanation, telling the Post that they didn’t approve any major remodeling plans and that it was “laughable” Team Trump would try to pin this on them, considering the new administration had no problem pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on day four of Trump’s presidency. “We told 11 other countries that we were going to do a trade deal with them, and the Trump administration found the power to unwind that,” an Obama trade official told the Post. “So furniture purchases cannot be as binding.”

As for whether Lighthizer will suffer any consequences for the pricey interior design choices, the odds are about as likely as Trump blurbing a second print run of James Comey’s book. Though the president is indeed on a firing spree, ethical transgressions like Lighthizer’s seem only to improve one’s standing with the boss. If Pruitt can hang on after his office decor spending spree, shady housing arrangement, and insistence on outfitting his official business car like it’s the Batmobile, then Lighthizer should be just fine.

[Vanity Fair]

Trump: ‘Sometimes It May Not Look Like It, But Believe Me, We Are Draining the Swamp’

With his EPA chief facing a mountain of ethical controversies and his secretary of Veteran Affairs recently fired following a scandal over misusing taxpayer money during a European trip, President Donald Trump declared that he is holding up his promise to “drain the swamp.”

During a Rose Garden speech about tax reform, the president claimed that his administration doesn’t “care about the donors and special interests” and instead is only concerned with “making America great again.” This then led POTUS to

“From the day I took the oath of office, I’ve been fighting to drain the swamp and sometimes, it may not look like it, but believe me, we are draining the swamp and there are a lot of unhappy people,” Trump boldly stated.

He continued, “You can see that every day. All you have to do is turn on the news. Every time you see me hit, you know that I’m draining the swamp. And people don’t like it.”

So there you go. Regardless of the number of Trump administration officials dealing with scandals over their wasteful personal expenditures of taxpayer funds, the president is letting us all know that media criticism of him is proof that the swamp is being drained.

[Mediaite]

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]

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