Today is Earth Day, and, to mark the occasion, thousands of Americans will flock to parks, beaches, and hiking trails. Others will stay home, monitoring their Twitter feeds for the latest Scott Pruitt scandal.
Like clockwork, the most recent one broke on the eve of the celebrations. The Hill reported on Friday that the lobbyist whose wife had rented a room to Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator, at a very favorable rate, had tried to set up a meeting earlier this year with the E.P.A. on behalf of the philanthropic arm of one of his clients, despite having insisted he had had no business before the agency in two years. The firm, Williams & Jensen, had not, it appears, filed the needed disclosure forms for such contact, although a spokesman for Williams & Jensen told The Hill that it was in the process of correcting this mistake. (The firm, the spokesman said in an e-mail, “is filing/has filed the requisite disclosure forms required by law accordingly.”)
As of last week, at least ten investigations into Pruitt’s lordly spending habits and droit-de-seigneur ethical standards were under way. (More may have been initiated since then; it’s hard to keep track.) As many commentators have noted, in an Administration founded on the motto “You’re fired,” it’s remarkable that Pruitt has lasted as long as he has. And it’s unclear whether he can tough it out much longer; on Wednesday, the White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, told lawmakers that he was looking into Pruitt’s widely lampooned “privacy booth.”
“I’m not any happier about it than you are,” Mulvaney assured members of the House Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, referring to the unauthorized expenditure of forty-three thousand dollars on the phone booth.
In the upbeat spirit of Earth Day, it’s worth hoping that Pruitt will soon be gone. But in the planetary-crisis spirit of the event, it’s worth pointing out that, if he is in fact booted, it will probably be for the wrong reasons. Pruitt’s lavish spending—on an oversized security detail, on weapons and bulletproof vests for said detail, on trips to Morocco and Italy that included his security detail, on trips to his home state of Oklahoma, on art for his office, on the Maxwell Smart phone booth—represents a variation on a familiar theme. Government officials who have pledged to serve the electorate instead use their offices to benefit themselves or their friends, or to indulge their taste for first-class travel or fancy furniture. But in Washington, as the saying goes, it’s not what’s illegal that’s the scandal, it’s what’s legal. Pruitt’s gravest wrongs involve not tens of thousands of dollars but, potentially, tens of millions of lives. [Continue reading…]
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