The White House found out, and wasn’t pleased.
Just when you thought the Scott Pruitt scandals couldn’t get more bizarre, a wild story is unfolding between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior.
An aide to Pruitt, the embattled EPA administrator, reportedly tried to take the heat off his boss, who has been mired in negative headlines in recent weeks for excessive spending and security, a condo rental from a lobbyist that was far below market rate, and a brutal congressional hearing, by shopping negative stories about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Atlantic’s Elaina Plott reported.
But the plan to shift attention away from Pruitt and throw Zinke under the bus hit a major snag: The White House found out about it, and they’re mad.
According to Plott, a member of Pruitt’s press team, Michael Abboud, a former Trump campaign staffer, attempted to shop allegations that Zinke’s staff tried to set up Pruitt:
Abboud alleged to reporters that an Interior staffer conspired with former EPA deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski to leak damaging information about the EPA, as part of a rivalry between Zinke and Pruitt. The collaboration, Abboud claimed, allowed the Interior staffer to prop up Zinke at the expense of Pruitt, and Chmielewski to “get back” at his former boss.
The EPA denies reports that Abboud tried to spread negative stories about Zinke.
These allegations against Zinke don’t appear to have made it too far. Most reporters seemed to have passed on writing the story, Plott writes. Patrick Howley, an ex-Breitbarter who now heads Big League Politics, a conservative media site that Trump ally and provocateur Roger Stone advises, appears to have bitten, running an article with the allegations Thursday.
But Zinke is under scrutiny for alleged ethics violations, including reports of private flights, and reports that he reassigned Native American senior career staff in the department and doesn’t think diversity is important.
The White House’s press team, reportedly enraged, has inquired about Abboud’s status as a government employee — specifically if they are allowed to fire him.
This is the latest twist in what has been a madcap series of scandals involving Pruitt and the Trump administration. The EPA has been hemorrhaging staff; three top officials resigned just this week.
As Vox’s Umair Irfan explained, Pruitt currently faces almost a dozen federal investigations, which will likely take months to complete.
- From reports of pricey first-class travel to unprecedented multimillion-dollar, 24-hour security detail expenditures to a $50-a-night lease for a cushy Capitol Hill condo, Irfan has kept a list of all the allegations against Pruitt.
- Despite all the scandals, Trump has stuck with his EPA secretary for now. Here’s why he doesn’t want to fire Pruitt.
- Pruitt has been an effective deregulating force at the EPA, which might be why the White House is rallying around him. Here are three environmental protection regulations Pruitt has worked to dismantle even while fighting off scandal.