The Trump administration’s dream of rolling back every environmental regulation hit a bump on Thursday with the resignation of EPA chief Scott Pruitt, the human equivalent of the rat locked inside the ATM chewing up money until it died. Pruitt’s sense of entitlement and disregard for ethics didn’t set him apart from everyone else in the administration, but unlike former HHS Secretary Tom Price or current Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, running the EPA was Pruitt’s first taste of real power. Like a drunk high school senior standing through the sunroof of the limo his parents rented for prom, Pruitt just couldn’t act like he’d been there before. Power corrupted him the moment he set foot in D.C., and he didn’t even seem inclined to hide his grift.
It was, in a sense, fascinating to observe just how much Pruitt could get away with as long as he flattered Trump and repeatedly kneecapped the agency he was appointed to oversee, currying favor with energy industry lobbyists while treating public funds, and in some cases his own aides’ wallets, as the underwriter of his newly appointed Roman emperor lifestyle. But as whistleblowers came forward this week to accuse Pruitt of stiffing junior aides he’d asked to put his hotel charges on their personal credit cards and pressuring staffers to find a six-figure job for his wife (who, prior to moving to D.C., had last held a job as a school nurse in the ’90s), it became clear that his time in the administration was coming to an end.
The signature Pruitt ethics violation demonstrated a unique strain of inflated ego tinged with pervasive paranoia. He justified spending obscene amounts of taxpayer money on first class airfare and hired a round-the-clock security detail to shield him from the public his policies poisoned. He spent five figures on a soundproof phone booth in his office. According to The Intercept, Pruitt outfitted his guards with the kind of gear you’d expect to see in an Expendables film:
Pruitt’s office spent $24,115 on a variety of tactical clothing and body armor in seven separate orders. All of the tactical gear was purchased in 2018, more than a year into Pruitt’s tenure as EPA chief. The agency spent a staggering $88,603 on radios and accessories, including holsters and travel chargers.
Items like a leased Chevy Suburban with bullet-resistant seats, “tactical pants,” and “tactical polos” seem more appropriate for a member of Seal Team 6 than a government bureaucrat’s bodyguard, but when it came to spending taxpayer money Pruitt spared no expense. We still haven’t got a good answer for why his security detail felt compelled to bust down the front door of the $50-a-night Capitol Hill condo Pruitt rented from an energy lobbyist. We do know, however, that his former landlord complained Pruitt overstayed his welcome, had to be pestered to pay the obscenely below-market rent, and (according to the Daily Beast) let trash pile up in the kitchen while waiting for a maid to appear and whisk it away.
Aside from using the EPA budget as a personal petty cash box, Pruitt allegedly subjected his staffers to the daily humiliation of acting as his personal concierge: Fetching fancy snacks, searching the city for his favorite luxury lotion, and brokering the sale of a used mattress from the Trump Hotel. That’s in addition to instructing his aides to book vacation jaunts and trips back home to Oklahoma under a flimsy guise of business travel. Staffers were more than eager to dime him out, accusing their tyrant of a boss of “rat-fucking” them at every turn. EPA whistleblower Kevin Chmielewski told MSNBC he “couldn’t put up with [Pruitt] anymore”—even though Chmielewski is a staunch supporter of the administration agenda who says he’d “go through a brick wall” for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
“The problem with this is I joined the Trump campaign… because of the whole message of draining the swamp,” Chmielewski said, “and not only did we not drain the swamp with this man, I think we put a bigger swamp creature in there.”
A master of sociopathic projection in an administration stacked with them, Pruitt blamed the public for “unrelenting attacks” on himself and his family in the groveling resignation letter he produced after Trump chief of staff John Kelly reportedly called to inform him it was time to go. You almost have to admire Pruitt’s commitment to being an unrepentant dirtbag to the bitter end.