Scott Pruitt's Sweet Deal; Zinke's Present to Gov. Scott; Kelly Does Trump's Dirtywork
Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, continues to struggle with the ethical blindness that has cost several of his colleagues in President Trump’s cabinet their jobs.
Bloomberg Politics reports that Pruitt has been leasing a Washington apartment at the sweetheart rate of $50 per night (DC hotel rooms typically cost $150-$200). Pruitt pays only for nights when he’s in town, but the landlord holds the place open so it will always be at the EPA chief’s disposal.
And the landlord, by the way, is a health care lobbyist whose husband – also a lobbyist – represents clients in industries regulated by the EPA.
EPA officials say that because Pruitt paid for his accommodations, there are no ethical issues. But Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, told Bloomberg that “it doesn’t look good for the administrator of EPA to have rented an apartment from the wife of an energy industry lobbyist who represents companies regulated by EPA.”
Earlier this month, after reports that he and his staff were flying first class on the taxpayers’ dime, an embarrassed Pruitt announced that he would switch to coach. The EPA chief also has come under fire for investing more than $40,000 in public funds to install a secure and soundproof phone booth in his Washington office.
Politico is filling in the backstory today on an early January announcement by Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Ryan Zinke, President Trump’s secretary of the interior, that the Sunshine State’s coastal waters are “off the table” in the administration drive to promote offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.
It turns out that the last-minute decision – as Zinke and Scott first described it – to protect Florida waters was a long-planned gambit to help the governor in his campaign to unseat veteran U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is up for reelection in November.
The governor and interior secretary had suggested that an 11th hour intervention by Scott persuaded Zinke and the Trump administration to block drilling off the Florida coasts, even as the adminisration pushes ahead with plans to drill for oil elsewhere along the Atlantic seaboard. But Politico said it reviewed more than 1,200 phone records, text messages, and emails, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the governor’s office, that detailed planning for the “spontaneous” announcement. The records document at least 60 phone calls between aides to the governor and Zinke’s staff in the three months leading up to the announcement.
Fourteen months into the Trump presidency, it’s clear that the man whose signature line before entering politics was “you’re fired,” leaves the real dirty work of terminating his employees to subordinates.
Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is telling reporters today that the President never mentioned any displeasure with his performance or plan to replace him when the two men spoke just a few hours before the White House announced Shulkin’s dismissal on Wednesday.
“We spoke about the progress that I was making, what I needed to do from a policy perspective to make sure that we‘re fixing the issues in VA,” Shulkin told MSNBC host Chris Hayes. “He was very focused, he was very inquisitive about the things we were working on, making sure we were focused on the job at hand.”
Shulkin learned of his fate in a later call from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Soon after that, Trump tweeted word that he’s nominating Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, his personal physician, to take charge at the VA. The choice caught members of Congress by surprise; Jackson has no experience in managing an organization even remotely as large or complicated as the VA, which with more than 375,000 employees and a $180 billion-plus budget is the federal govenrnment’s second largest bureaucracy.
What’s next? Trump’s gardener as agriculture secretary? Trump’s driver or maybe his pilot as transportation secretary? Trump Tower’s chief electrician as energy secretary? Nothing surprises.