Tuesday was a big news day for Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), beginning with resignations of two of his top aides and ending with the news that Pruitt’s questionable Morocco trip cost double what was originally thought.
But chaotic news cycles in and of themselves aren’t shocking in this day and age. Instead, what’s concerning is that nearly every single story about Pruitt’s actions that broke this week now shows how he may have lied to Congress last week while testifying.
As described by Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff and long-time Trump supporter, Kevin Chmielewski, Pruitt “bold-faced” lied to Congress. That’s a big red flag, given that House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R) and others have acknowledged that lying to Congress is a crime.
According to our count, the week’s news suggests that Pruitt may have lied to Congress at least 4 times during his testimony last week. With Pruitt set to appear in front of the Senate next month, it seems like Senators might want to make sure he’s under oath this time.
Here’s a quick rundown of each news item from yesterday compared with answers that Pruitt gave in last week’s hearings:
Pruitt tried to mislead Members of Congress about the purpose of his Morocco trip
This Week’s Breaking News: Not only do sources now estimate the cost of Pruitt’s trip to be $100,000 (up from the previous estimate of $40,000), but Pruitt allowed his “good friend,” Comcast lobbyist Rick Smotkin, to have an unusually influential role in planning his Morocco agenda in December of 2017. Directly following the trip, Smotkin was hired on a $40,000/month contract with the government of Morocco, to promote the country as a film destination.
The legitimacy of this trip had long been questioned — according to an EPA press release, Pruitt’s primary purpose there was touting liquified natural gas exports, which is under the purview of other agencies. The optics of this new information suggest that the trip may instead have helped Smotkin secure his new business deal, equivalent to Pruitt using his official role in government to profit a private individual, which is not permitted under federal laws.
Pruitt’s Claim in front of Congress [In response to a question from Rep. Lujan about the relevance of his trip]: “There was a free trade agreement that is in existence with Morocco, and the Ambassador of Morocco invited me to Morocco to negotiate the environmental chapter on that free trade agreement. Both of those things are very important in the scope of our duties at the EPA.”
Pruitt indicated that the lobbyist he rented cheap condo from didn’t lobby EPA
This Week’s Breaking News: It turns out that lobbyist and co-owner of Pruitt’s $50-a-night condo J. Steven Hart wrote to Pruitt last August to recommend three scientists to be on Pruitt’s revamped Science Advisory Board. The kicker? All three candidates were first suggested by Hart’s client, Smithfield Foods/Smithfield Foundation. Pruitt has systematically dismantled the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, removing anyone who receives EPA funding — which is a large number of qualified academics — and adding industry representatives, among others.
When news of Pruitt’s bargain-condo situation first broke, both Pruitt and Hart denied that Hart had lobbied the EPA on behalf of any of Williams and Jensen’s clients. However, a new disclosure report filed at the end of April said that Hart had lobbied the EPA on behalf of Smithfield Foods — which both he and Pruitt were quick to correct as a meeting in July of 2017 regarding the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a nonprofit. In an interview with FOX News in early April, Pruitt said, “Mr. Hart has no client that has business before this agency.”
Pruitt’s Claim in front of Congress [responding to a question from Rep. Eshoo regarding whether he had any meetings with Hart]: “Congresswoman, as I’ve indicated, with respect to this situation with Mr. Hart and Mrs. Hart, the only event that took place was a meeting with a non-profit Chesapeake Bay — and I’m not aware of any other — I’m not aware of any instances.”
Pruitt allegedly lied about retaliating against staff who spoke out about his wasteful spending
This Week’s Breaking News: Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff and Trump campaign veteran, Kevin Chmielewski, said in an interview that Pruitt “bold-faced” lied to Congress when he said there had been no retaliation against staff who questioned his actions. Chmielewski says that after raising concerns about Pruitt’s spending on first-class travel, he was “100 percent” forced out.
Pruitt’s Claim in front of Congress: “First, I want to say I know of no instances, Congressman, where a decision has been made on employment status related to spending or any recommendations spending. I said that earlier and I’ll say it again to you now.”
Pruitt said that his agency wasn’t planning on revoking California’s waiver, as his agency worked to prepare the materials to revoke the waiver
This Week’s Breaking News: A day after the hearing, a joint proposal from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and EPA was leaked showing that the administration is considering a proposal to revoke a waiver that allows California to set its own auto emissions standards. Yesterday, California was joined by thirteen other states in suing the EPA for their failure to regulate emissions from autos, setting up a drawn-out legal fight.
Pruitt’s Claim in front of Congress [in response to a question from Rep. Matsui as to whether the agency intended to revoke California’s waiver]: “Not at present. In fact, we worked very closely with California officials on that issue. I’ve sent EPA representatives to California…to meet with, to meet with CARB and Ms. Nichols.”
Scott Pruitt just keeps on saying one thing and doing another. Yet to blatantly mislead Congress brings this to a new level. The evidence is clear — Pruitt must be under oath when he next testifies, to ensure that he feels compelled to tell the truth, for once.