The Environmental Protection Agency administrator has shown a knack for verbal gymnastics, particularly in his handling of myriad ethics scandals. But he flopped on Wednesday while being grilled by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Democratic Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico asked Pruitt about reports that he ordered his motorcade to deploy lights and sirens to cut through D.C. traffic. “There are policies in place that govern the use of lights” that “were followed to the best of my knowledge,” Pruitt replied. Asked again whether he ordered sirens, Pruitt said he did “not recall that happening.” Udall then revealed an internal EPA email in which Pruitt’s former head of security said Pruitt “personally encouraged” the use of sirens.
At the beginning of Wednesday’s hearing, Pruitt admitted that some of the many reports of his excessive spending were true and regrettable. “There have been decisions over the last 16 months or so that, as I look back on those decisions, I would not make the same decisions again,” he said. Pruitt cited the $43,000 soundproof phone booth he had installed in his office as an example.
He made other damaging admissions. When Udall asked Pruitt if one of his aides, Milan Hupp, worked without pay to find housing for the administrator, Pruitt said she did. “[That’s] a violation of federal law,” Udall replied.
In response to questioning from Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen, Pruitt confirmed a New York Times report that he’s been setting up a legal defense fund, where outside sources can donate money to defend the EPA chief from investigations into his conduct. As Mother Jones reported last week, that could create yet “another ethical mess.”
In lashing Pruitt, Democratic senators used words like “embarrassment” and “shame.” Some called on him to resign. But by far the most scorching burn came from Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, who questioned Pruitt’s claim that security threats require him to fly in first class at taxpayers’ expense. “What a silly reason to fly first class,” Leahy said. “Nobody even knows who you are.”