EPA administrator Scott Pruitt thinks Tulsa, Oklahoma, should have a chance to Eat Mor Chikin.
That was part of his explanation -- seriously, watch it -- for the revelation this week that he asked an aide to help his wife, Marlyn, get a foothold in the (lucrative) Chick-fil-A fast food game.
According to emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Sierra Club, a staffer emailed the company's executive side to set up a conversation between Pruitt and Chick-fil-A chief Dan Cathy about "a potential business opportunity."
The "opportunity" presented by the Pruitt aide was, as it turned out, actually "an expression of interest in (Pruitt's) wife becoming a Chick-fil-A franchisee," a company representative told The Washington Post.
In the end, the outreach didn't yield much. Pruitt's wife never completed her application. Pruitt gave that impenetrable response to a question about the story. Which means we can move on -- to another report, this one via Politico late Wednesday, that chews on Pruitt's appreciation for the menu options at the White House Mess, the Navy-run dining spot with top-notch food at bargain basement prices.
So frequent were his visits to the small hall, the story says, that he was politely asked, according to Politico, to pursue other dining options. Politico also surfaced a single month's tab, from July 2017, that came in at a little under $400 -- an impressively modest sum given its length.
Among the treats listed on the itemized bill for Pruitt and his guests: "Calypso Steak Salad," "Pineapple Glazed Salmon," and something called a "Ragin Cajun," which was ordered at two consecutive visits and three times that month.
Be it his dining tastes or business networking, the drumbeat of news about Pruitt suggests he's more interested in swimming laps in "the swamp" than draining it. There are, from him and his allies, reams of excuses, denials and deflections, but the sheer mass of reporting -- by the press, watchdogs groups, and internal investigators -- has managed to throw his position, from time to time, into some doubt.
Pruitt's appreciation for the finer things, so long as they come to him free or at a cut-rate, has become a running theme of his time in Washington. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican, recently called Pruitt "about as swampy as you get." The stories have become so frequent and, frankly, absurd, that even Fox News felt compelled to grill him on at least one reported round of shenanigans. (Caveat here: the accusation discussed then involved his side-stepping a White House directive not offer pay raises to staff, so the story could, in a way, have been considered flattering to Trump.)
More recently, in just the past couple weeks, The New York Times reported on his attendance -- courtside -- at a University of Kentucky basketball game late last year, with his son, in seats belonging to a billionaire coal executive. It was also revealed, in emails requested by the Sierra Club, that Pruitt's office spent more than $3,000 in public money on customized fountain pens and journals from a Washington boutique called the "Tiny Jewel Box."
Other notably swampy allegations against/stories about Pruitt include, but are surely not limited to:
- His $50-per-night condo rental, which lasted about six months, courtesy of husband-and-wife lobbyists who also happened to be past Pruitt donors
- A June 2017 trip to Rome that cost taxpayers more than $120,000
- His reasoning for booking first or business class travel (airport heckling made Pruitt's security team feel he was "unsafe," an EPA official said)
- The $43,000 purchase of a soundproof, though not actually secure, booth for his office
- Multiple reported requests from Pruitt himself that his motorcade flash emergency lights and sirens to beat the DC traffic
- His end-around on the White House in order to secure raises for a pair of aides, the story that prompted his Fox News appearance
Precisely how many more sour notes Pruitt is allowed to play before Trump gets fed up hearing about them on cable news is anyone's guess. Two close aides to Pruitt resigned on Wednesday, suggesting that dissatisfaction with the state of things at the EPA is not the sole province of those seeking to "derail the president's agenda," as the administrator suggested on Capitol Hill in April.
One half of the departing duo, Millan Hupp, had a turn in the headlines a few days ago when congressional Democrats released testimony in which she discussed Pruitt's pursuit of a used Trump Hotel mattress -- one in a series of personal errands it's been alleged he charged or allowed Hupp to lead.
So what does Trump think of it all? He weighed in on Wednesday, offering this assessment:
"EPA is doing really, really well. And you know, somebody has to say that about you a little bit," the President said of Pruitt. "EPA is doing so well. ... I think people are very happy with the job that's being done at the EPA."