Trump confident about Pruitt


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

White House officials sounded increasingly doubtful Thursday about the future of embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, even as President Donald Trump appeared to throw him a public lifeline.

Speaking Thursday to reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump used a series of superlatives to describe Pruitt.

“I think he’s done a fantastic job,” the president said. “I think he’s done an incredible job. He’s been very courageous. It hasn’t been easy, but I think he’s done a fantastic job.”

That was contrasted by more tepid remarks earlier from White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley.

“They say we all serve at the pleasure of the president,” Gidley told reporters. “The president himself said he had confidence (in Pruitt), and so that’s where we stand today.”

Pruitt has been under fire for days amid numerous ethics questions, including his rental of a bargain-priced Capitol Hill condo with ties to a fossil fuels lobbyist. If Trump were to fire him, he would be the fourth agency head ousted in the Trump administration’s first 15 months.

Trump has often lavished praise on Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who has worked relentlessly to scrap, delay or rewrite Obama-era environmental regulations opposed by the oil, gas and coal industries.

But he also has publicly expressed support for other administration officials who were fired or resigned, right up until sending tweets announcing their departure.

A review of Pruitt’s ethical conduct by White House officials is underway, adding to other probes already being conducted by congressional oversight committees and EPA’s inspector general into outsized spending on luxury air travel and unusual security precautions.

Late Wednesday, an EPA ethics official said he wasn’t provided the full facts when he ruled last week that Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental was not an ethics violation.

EPA lawyer Kevin Minoli said his finding that Pruitt was paying fair-market value was based on the assumption that Pruitt occupied only one bedroom for $50 a night, as outlined in the lease.

Media reports later disclosed that Pruitt’s college-aged daughter occupied a second bedroom in the unit while she interned at the White House last summer. Minoli said he did not consider the value of a second room in his analysis.

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