Politics

Dems Question Scott Pruitt Death Threats; Barrasso Rejects Hearing

EPA chief's security concerns questioned

Senate Democrats question whether EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is embellishing death threats to justify heightened security details and want to question him in a hearing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming said he will not hold oversight hearings to examine alleged ethical lapses by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, including on exorbitant spending on security.

Two top Democrats on the committee, ranking member Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, on Tuesday demanded such hearings, saying they have confidential documents that contradict public statements made by Pruitt, EPA spokespersons and President Donald Trump regarding the administrator’s security spending.

The lawmakers in their letter asserted that the documents in their hands fall far short of supporting claims by Pruitt’s office that he needed elaborate security measure to protect him from death threats.

“Documents provided to us by EPA official(s) suggest the agency has relied on questionable threats to the Administrator, including reports of non-violent protests, negative feedback about the administrators actions or other First Amendment protected activity to justify millions of dollars in additional security spending, inducing first-class air travel, as compared to his predecessors at the agency,” Carper and Whitehouse wrote.

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But Barrasso instead scolded them for releasing “sensitive” information and rejected their calls for oversight hearings.

“I am deeply troubled that members of the committee would publicly release law enforcement sensitive information regarding the safety and security of a cabinet member and his family,” Barrasso said in a release responding to the letter. “This letter selectively quotes non-public documents. Any reasonable reading of these documents supports the Office of the Inspector General’s statements that Administrator Pruitt faces a ‘variety of direct death threats.’”

The Democrats’ letter “is exactly why members should not publicly disclose information that relates to the safety of a cabinet member,” Barrasso continued. “It is also why this committee will not hold a hearing on this issue.”

Pruitt has been mired in controversy for months over reports of the administrator’s purported ethical lapses, including ostentatious spending at taxpayer expense on first-class flights, expensive hotels, pricey office desks and a privacy booth and a questionable rental agreement with a lobbyist couple. Pruitt also surrounded himself with a large 24-hour security detail that, according to the Democrats’ letter, has already cost taxpayers more than $3 million.

The controversies led to calls for Pruitt’s resignation or firing by a handful of Republicans and several Democrats. House Energy and Commerce top Democrat Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey joined the chorus Tuesday.

The agency, which did not respond to a request for comment on the Democrats’ letter, has justified the first-class travel and extra security as a precaution taken because of threats to Pruitt.

But Carper and Whitehouse say the documents that they have, including investigations by the U.S. Secret Service, show there were no credible threats to justify the level of security the EPA is providing to Pruitt. The reported threats, the letter said, included mundane incidents like protestors attempting to disrupt Pruitt’s speech at a private event and letters or social media posts expressing displeasure with the administrator’s actions.

“It is hard to reconcile the public statements of the EPA, and the President, with these internal and external assessments,” the letter said. “Either way, the EPW Committee has a responsibility to look into these matters.”

Barrasso has avoided publicly criticizing Pruitt, saying on Monday he will wait for the White House’s investigation into the allegations that have dogged Pruitt.

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