LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Scott Pruitt is still clinging to his job as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency this week as questions mount over his spending habits since he took over. Recent revelations include his stay in a suspiciously underpriced condo that belonged to the wife of an energy lobbyist, a 20-person security detail that cost millions of dollars and first-class travel. Politico's Emily Holden interviewed 10 current and former EPA staffers, and she joins me now to share what she's heard. Emily, thanks for being here.
EMILY HOLDEN: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lots of people thought Pruitt might be fired on Friday, but he's held onto his job over the weekend. What's going on?
HOLDEN: That's right. So last night, the president tweeted essentially addressing all of these controversies that have been in the news this weekend - saying that he still thinks Scott is doing a great job.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Doing a great job - but, you know, there's a lot of talk about what he has been doing at the EPA and specifically his spending. Let's go back through some of these expenses. What has been setting off alarm bells?
HOLDEN: So the thing that really set off this recent string of headlines was news that he had spent $50 a night to live in a condo owned by lobbyists, including the husband of this couple of lobbyists who consults with energy clients. And there are some questions about whether that is appropriate. Our reporting shows that those lobbyists thought that they were basically doing a favor for Pruitt.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Doing a favor for Pruitt - and there's also other issues that are not just about his spending - also issues about his behavior at the EPA. What's going on?
HOLDEN: Right. So what we've heard from our reporting, from talking to people who were there who have left recently, is that there is some sort of feuding and tension over the headlines that keep coming up because some people feel that there should have been more pushback against some of these behaviors - that it was pretty obvious eventually it would be getting him into trouble because they would come to light - these things like expensive spending on his security detail, his first-class flights. And some reporting recently showed that while he has been flying first class - arguing that that's for security reasons - when he is flying and paying for it himself, he flies coach. So that undercuts the argument a bit too.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And just out of curiosity, why does he need such a big security detail? I mean, he is the administrator of the EPA and not exactly the secretary of defense.
HOLDEN: Well, EPA has said that he has had death threats. And they argue that that's because he is undertaking these extensive rollbacks of environmental regulations and that that's something that a lot of people don't like. And - but he has a 20-person security detail. It's around-the-clock, and it's roughly three times the size of the past EPA administrator, who also wasn't really loved by a lot of conservatives.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've been speaking with current and former EPA staffers. What is the mood like at the EPA right now?
HOLDEN: It's not good. I think that - you know, one person told me that they worry that there is a lot of backstabbing going on. There is some paranoia about where these leaks are coming from because a lot of the information would have had to come from someone very close to the administrator. And so there's some finger-pointing over that. And then when you talk to the career officials - the people who have worked for EPA and previous administrations as well - they get the feeling that there's no way that leadership could be focusing on policy right now because they just have controversy after controversy to address.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Last week, Pruitt announced he would roll back Obama-era auto emissions standards. President Trump and his supporters really like what he's been doing at the EPA. He's been very popular among conservatives and the president. Just briefly, how have these ethics questions affected his ability to do his job?
HOLDEN: Well, I think that - the people that I've talked to said that meetings were proceeding and that things were still moving forward. But it seems like this is all escalating. And there's a sense that more stories will be coming - that journalists are working on other tips that they have and that public records are going to come out and show even more of this. And so I think a lot of the things he's begun - those are things that could be in the courts for years too.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Emily Holden covers energy and climate change for Politico. Thank you so much.
HOLDEN: Thank you.
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