The House Oversight Committee plans to interview two members of Scott Pruitt's inner circle this month as it presses ahead with its investigation into the embattled EPA administrator's ethics controversies and lavish spending, according to a committee aide.
The committee, which is probing Pruitt's travel practices and spending on security, has scheduled transcribed interviews in June with Pruitt’s chief of staff Ryan Jackson and his former top policy adviser, Samantha Dravis, according to the aide. Those sessions come on the heels of interviews with Pruitt's former security chief Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, scheduler Millan Hupp and senior EPA counsel Sarah Greenwalt.
Pruitt has been under scrutiny for weeks because of the steady drip of scandals that have fueled more than a dozen investigations by Congress and EPA's own watchdog into his first-class flights, unauthorized raises for close aides, sweetheart condo rental from an energy lobbyist and round-the-clock security. But he has maintained the support of President Donald Trump, and in interviews this week he again blamed the controversies on opposition to his rollbacks of environmental regulations.
Congressional Democrats, who sharply questioned Pruitt at a hearing last month, have pounced on the controversies as well as recent headlines generated from the agency's decision to bar certain reporters and the public from attending a toxic chemicals summit at agency headquarters. And while there are no new congressional appearances for Pruitt scheduled, House and Senate Democrats say they aren't worried about keeping the pressure on him.
“This is a gift that keeps on giving, and there are plenty of other people stepping forward and giving information to us,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, told POLITICO in an interview last week. “He gives us new information, new things to explore all the time. I have a feeling he’s going to continue doing that.”
The House Oversight Committee, headed by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), is still in the process of scheduling an interview with Kevin Chmielewski, a former deputy chief of staff turned whistleblower who alleged he was fired after refusing to retroactively approve first-class travel for Dravis. The aide said committee staff has been in touch with Chmielewski, who was already informally interviewed once before, and are trying to schedule a date for a transcribed session.
Pruitt’s remained defiant amid the swirl of controversies and told The Washington Free Beacon in a Wednesday interview that he continues to enjoy strong support from Trump.
“It's been intense the last couple of months. But [Trump] has been very encouraging, very empathetic, and very supportive,” Pruitt said. “I think he recognizes what this is really about, in the sense of when we took on these efforts at the agency to change the way we do business from an EPA perspective — this has been a bastion of the left for many years.”
Democratic aides, meanwhile, say they’re exploring new oversight angles on Pruitt’s use of extensive security on trips, his establishing of a legal defense fund and the decision to list an Orange County Superfund site after a meeting requested by conservative radio and television host Hugh Hewitt. Three Senate Democrats on Thursday also asked EPA’s inspector general to probe whether Pruitt violated federal rules by having Hupp search for housing accommodations for him.
Democratic aides say Pruitt became more vulnerable by drawing criticism from Republicans after POLITICO reported about EPA's efforts to help bury a federal study on toxic chemicals' contamination of drinking water. And they say Oversight’s ongoing investigation is viewed as a “major liability” to the former Oklahoma attorney general.
Even though the Oversight panel and the EPA inspector general aren't expected to release their results for some time, Democrats remain confident additional revelations will prove damning.
“I don’t know how he can even function as the administrator given all his problems,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, told POLITICO. “He constantly creates more problems that involve more ethics problems. It never stops. There are always new ones.”
Republicans, for their part, seem weary of answering questions about Pruitt, even as they remain publicly supportive of his efforts to roll back the Obama administration's environmental regulations.
“You keep trying to keep drag me into the storm,” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee. “I try to keep staying out of the storm. I’m focusing on the job and not the other issues.”
And some of Pruitt’s allies — even those who wavered in the midst of the allegations — believe the Democratic campaign to force him out won’t let up anytime soon.
“They’re going to still go after him,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said. “They don’t like him.”