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EPA Chief Pruitt's Job Isn't In Jeopardy, Former Colleague Says


Scott Pruitt says he has nothing to hide. The head of the EPA deflected his critics on Capitol Hill yesterday. He said he didn't know about the cost of a $43,000 secure phone booth installed in his office. Pruitt blamed his staff for that and for other spending decisions that have drawn scrutiny. He is now under at least 10 federal inquiries but was calmly defiant in front of lawmakers yesterday.


SCOTT PRUITT: Let's have no illusions about what was really going on here. Those who have attacked the EPA and attacked me are doing so because they want to attack and derail the president's agenda and undermine this administration's priorities.

MARTIN: Joining me now, David Rivkin. He's a former White House counsel to President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush. He's also worked closely with Scott Pruitt representing Oklahoma in cases against the EPA when Pruitt was the state's attorney general. Mr. Rivkin, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVID RIVKIN: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: We had you on earlier, we had you on the show earlier in the month, about the accusations that Scott Pruitt is facing. And I want to play for you something you said back then. Let's listen.


RIVKIN: I think these attacks are driven entirely by the fact that he's one of the more effective members of the cabinet, loyal to the president, carrying out his agenda, getting a lot of things done and working extremely hard. So I really do not think he's going to make a dent. And I think everybody in Washington understands that these attacks are not driven by merit, not driven by any facts.

MARTIN: Clearly not everybody in Washington agrees because there were several lawmakers yesterday, Democrats and Republicans, putting tough questions questioning those very facts. Did you hear anything in that hearing that gave you pause?

RIVKIN: I have not. And let me just say that my conclusion a month ago - and Scott made the same point yesterday - I think remains valid. Look, the very intensity of the attacks, the very focus of the people involved on all of those issues, do you really seriously think that this is not coordinated, this is not driven based upon policy? Day after day, front-page articles in Washington Post and New York Times.

MARTIN: But it's even close allies of his. I mean, Senator Jim Inhofe, a longtime friend of Scott Pruitt's, has raised questions about ethical violations. I mean, the idea that Pruitt told Fox News he didn't know about pay raises he had given to two - that were given to two members of his staff until they were reported in the media, but then yesterday Pruitt seemed to contradict that, saying that he had actually approved the raises. So there are some discrepancies here.

RIVKIN: I think the discrepancies can be explained away. But let's just talk about the phone booth for a second. We're talking about installing secure communications. Can any of your viewers imagine that there's something fundamentally wrong with trying to have secure communications? Will it somehow attest to a person's desire to have a luxurious lifestyle? So having a secure phone booth in one's office...

MARTIN: I think the point is that it's unprecedented in its price tag.

RIVKIN: Well, but do you really think administrative EPA or head of any agency who's trying to get this done is necessarily aware of how much it's going to cost, over an idea to follow some reporting procedure? This is a perfect example. OK? So perhaps it was a management mix-up of some kind. But does it attest to some fundamental character flaw? Really?

MARTIN: There are now calls from some people in his own party, Republicans, calling for Scott Pruitt to be removed. It's not just Democrats. And the White House won't answer questions directly about whether or not President Trump still has confidence in him. Do you think his job's in jeopardy?

RIVKIN: I do not think so. And again, the very nature of these attacks. I think not only the president, as he has said repeatedly, is very impressed of the work he is doing. (Unintelligible). But anybody understands if you can - these types of attacks force the removal of somebody who is doing the president's bidding, there will be a next victim and a next victim and a next victim.

MARTIN: At what point, though, can you just say - I mean, at some point, the questions about the behavior and the possible ethics violations have to be separated from accusations of political bias. I mean, are you saying that Scott Pruitt can never be alleged to have committed any ethics violations because automatically it'll be political?

RIVKIN: Of course, that's not true about anybody. But let's take a deep breath. Let's actually look at the facts. There are internal investigations. Let them take their course. And again, look. I know you have to cover this, but, as I said, I find it unbelievable about the tempo of these attacks. Let's all take a deep breath, let the investigations be completed and let's see what the results are.

MARTIN: OK. David...

RIVKIN: But the way to do it is not to attack him repeatedly.

MARTIN: ...David Rivkin, former White House counsel to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Thank you so much for time this morning.

RIVKIN: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: Joining us now, NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell, who was listening into that conversation. So we just heard David Rivkin there, strong ally of Pruitt, saying all of this is political. Are you hearing that from other corners of the Republican Party?

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Yeah, absolutely. There are a number of House Republicans who said that exact same thing. And this was basically the line that Pruitt kept coming back to throughout his interrogation in both settings yesterday in Congress, was that this is entirely political, the conversation is not about ethics, it's not about spending, but it's about Democrats being upset with his decisions on rolling back EPA regulations.

MARTIN: Does that mean that Scott Pruitt's job is safe?

SNELL: It's not entirely certain at this point, though I've talked to a number of Republicans who think that the president was able to seize Pruitt standing up for himself and would probably respond well, in their opinion, to him framing this as a political argument, it is something that the White House has used as a tactic to explain other issues that they have come across and that it may well be successful for him, as well.

MARTIN: All right. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell for us this morning. Kelsey, thanks so much.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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