Of Scott Pruitt’s many bad weeks of press, the first week of June may have been his worst. Pruitt had been under scrutiny since his appointment as head of the Environmental Protection Agency for his close ties to the industries he was supposed to regulate. He had done little to quiet his skeptics. For the past few months, news stories had detailed his questionable interactions with energy lobbyists and exorbitant spending on air travel and security. By June, the stories had reached almost comical extremes. The heady week began when the Washington Post detailed his office’s purchase of a dozen fountain pens for $1,560. Three days later, the New York Times reported that he had directed an aide to acquire a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel. The next day, the Post revealed that Pruitt had used his position to try to land his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise.
Pruitt’s resignation on July 5 was the culmination of this relentless wave of scandals. (Chief of staff John Kelly reportedly called the agency to say it was time for Pruitt to go soon after a CNN story revealed that Pruitt had suggested to the president that he replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general.) Congressional investigators, whistleblowers, and reporters were all instrumental in unearthing the administrator’s ethical lapses and prompting his exit from office. But some of the wildest misconduct from the Pruitt era may never have made it into the public eye were it not for the Sierra Club, an advocacy organization that focuses on environmental policy.
Documents from the Sierra Club’s Freedom of Information Act requests led to stories about the used mattress and the Chick-fil-A franchise—likely violations of ethics rules stating that government officials cannot have staffers run personal errands for them or use their offices for personal gain. The club’s FOIA requests were what revealed that Pruitt’s top aide, Millan Hupp, had signed off on the purchase of the customized silver fountain pens and journals embossed with Pruitt’s signature, along with the total price of the order: $1,670. Hupp resigned on June 6, five days after the piece was published. [Continue reading…]