Wednesday, June 6, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He went all in on defending Scott Pruitt.

Today, at a meeting of FEMA officials, Trump volunteered praise for EPA administrator Scott Pruit, saying, "Thank you Scott, very much. EPA is doing really, really well." Then, in a winking reference to the fifteen (15) separate federal investigations into Pruitt's conduct in office, Trump added, "Somebody has to say that about you a little bit, you know that, Scott."

Those remarks came shortly before Pruitt gave an interview about the very most recent of his controversies: his use of EPA employees to arrange meetings between his wife and executives with the Chick-Fil-A fast food chain. Pruitt's wife was seeking a Chick-fil-A franchise, but his assignment of taxpayer-funded employees to arrange it is a violation of federal law. (Chick-fil-A itself is not suspected of any wrongdoing and has confirmed that the e-mails from Pruitt's EPA employees are authentic.)

In the course of today's interview, Pruitt gave a ringing and specific endorsement of the chain. After blaming the scandal around his abuse of office on "opposition," he added: "I love, she loves, we love Chick-fil-A as a franchise of faith and it's one of the best in the country and that's something we were very excited about and we need more of them in Tulsa and we need more of them across the country." In and of themselves, those comments appear to violate yet another law against using government office to endorse specific private businesses.

While the Chick-fil-A scandal seems bizarre on its face, it's related in several ways to Pruitt's other brushes with the law. On Monday it was revealed that he had tasked another EPA employee with attempting to buy a used mattress from a Trump hotel. Exactly why he'd want a used hotel mattress still isn't clear, but he may need new bedding after having been forced by publicity out of what may be the most generous condominium lease in the history of real estate from an energy lobbyist.

And while Pruitt's fear of "opposition" is a bit out of tune in a democracy, it seems to be part of his truly extravagant spending of taxpayer dollars on personal and electronic security measures. He has exempted himself from government regulations forbidding first-class travel on security grounds--although why passengers flying coach are more dangerous to Pruitt still isn't clear. (It's also not clear why Pruitt is less afraid of coach passengers when he pays for the ticket himself.)

A more thorough--but still incomplete--list of Pruitt's ongoing ethical and legal problems would also include mention of his illegal re-appropriation of money for what amounts to a private phone booth, his granting of raises to two aides even after being told he wasn't allowed to (and the lies he told to cover it up), his purchase of a dozen pens for $1,560, his acceptance of college basketball tickets from a coal industry executive, his acceptance of a $100,000 trip to Morocco that was arranged by a lobbyist. 

Such a list would also mention his attempts to build an unnecessary EPA office in Tulsa (complete with another phone booth). When Pruitt is not living in lobbyists' condos, he makes his home in Tulsa.

Returning to today's events, two of Pruitt's senior aides at the EPA resigned today, including the employee he'd forced to go used-Trump-mattress-shopping for him.

Why does this matter?

  • Government resources should not be used for personal gain.
  • Presidents are responsible for setting an ethical standard for their subordinates to follow.
  • The number of legal and ethical investigations a cabinet official can be under before being fired should probably be somewhat less than fifteen.