Apr 26, 2018, 7:53 PM ET

Highlights from Pruitt's marathon day on Capitol Hill

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Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt insisted he has "nothing to hide" and shifted blame for some of the agency's spending decisions to staffers during six hours of grilling on Capitol Hill Thursday.

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Asked how the White House viewed Pruitt's performance, one administration official told ABC News that he still "has no support in the building except from the president."

Some Republicans defended Pruitt, saying that Democratic critics were trying to shoot the messenger and that he was a victim of "Washington politics" while Pruitt himself said some of the accusations of ethical misconduct were just untrue.

Pruitt faced an array of questions about his decisions to roll back environmental policies since taking over the agency, whether he granted controversial raises to two of his aides and the cost of his security detail and travel.

Pruitt had addressed some of the allegations and ongoing investigations in a Fox News interview that aired earlier this month but Thursday was the first time he was questioned about reports that he retaliated against EPA employees that expressed concerns about his spending at the agency as well as claims from an EPA whistleblower, described in a letter from Democrats, that his security detail exaggerated threats against him to justify increased spending and first-class seating on flights.

Pruitt appeared before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee Thursday morning and then before a House Appropriations subcommittee in the afternoon.

Here are some highlights from the two hearings.

Pruitt defends natural gas pitch on pricey Morocco visit

A member of the House Appropriations subcommittee raised questions about one of Pruitt’s trips abroad, a recent visit to Morocco during which Pruitt promoted U.S. natural gas exports – typically within the Energy Department’s purview.

“I can’t for the life of me imagine why an EPA administrator would be over there promoting energy sales,” Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said.

Pruitt defended the trip as a preliminary meeting for the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement where “there was a lot of reference to LNG” – shorthand for liquefied natural gas – “only because the ambassador asked me to share that with individuals while I was in country.”

It wasn’t immediately clear which ambassador Pruitt was referring to.

ABC News has previously reported that Pruitt recorded only one meeting on the first day of the costly trip to the Saharan country.

An initial agenda for the trip reviewed by ABC News included four redacted pages.

Pruitt, congresswoman spar over alleged death threats, security costs

The afternoon hearing began much in the same way as the Energy and Commerce subcommittee’s morning hearing ended, with Democratic ranking member Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., holding Pruitt’s feet to the fire about security and travel expenditures.

As Pruitt read aloud threats made against him – referring to a document he says was provided to him by the EPA’s inspector general – in an effort to justify higher security costs – McCollum pushed back, telling Pruitt that “we all receive death threats on our Facebook page.”

McCollum revealed that the committee reached out to the EPA’s inspector general ahead of the hearing and said the inspector general, Arthur Elkins, “disputed” some of Pruitt’s claims.

Pruitt insisted the document was from the inspector general, and McCollum asked that the document be submitted for the hearing’s official record.

When ABC News reached out to the inspector general’s office, a spokesperson confirmed Rep. McCollum’s assertion that Elkins disputed Pruitt’s claim.

“The memo that [Pruitt] read from was not from Inspector General Elkins,” a spokesperson for the inspector general said, adding, “It was an internal memo from Assistant IG for Investigations Patrick Sullivan. It was leaked without authorization. It will be released in the near future as part of an OIG FOIA response.”

Democrats pound Pruitt, Republicans on ethics issues as first hearing comes to a close

After nearly four hours of questioning, the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing ended the way it began, with exasperated Democratic lawmakers peppering Pruitt with questions about reports of unethical behavior and lavish spending – and criticizing Republicans on the panel for refraining from doing so.

Asked whether he has any remorse for what Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., called “excessive spending,” Pruitt said he’s already made changes, citing his decision to fly in coach after reports emerged that Pruitt flew in first class.

“This is not a dodge question day… I don’t really find you forthcoming,” Eshoo added.

Vermont Democrat Peter Welch again questioned Pruitt about the purchase of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth, pointing to the two secure spaces already within the EPA to communicate sensitive information.

Pruitt reiterated that his staff coordinated the purchase of the secure phone booth, adding that the two other secure spaces are “not that close to my office.”

With regard to his chain of command and delegating the phone booth purchase to staff, Pruitt conceded that “in this instance, the process failed.”

In the waning moments of the hearing, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., expressed disappointment in her Republican colleagues for letting Pruitt “off the hook” by avoiding questions about his conduct.

“It’s embarrassing that most of the Republicans refuse to take this committee’s oversight responsibility seriously,” Castor said.

Pruitt: Career EPA officials coordinated $43,000 phone booth without my knowledge

Pruitt shifted blame onto “career EPA officials” for erecting a private phone booth in the administrator’s office that cost more than $43,000.

“I did not have access to secure communications, I gave directions to my staff to address that,” Pruitt said, adding that staffers had “made expenditures that I did not approve.”

The EPA spent more than $43,000 to install a "secure phone booth" in Pruitt's office last year, according to agency documents obtained by American Oversight, a watchdog group founded by former Obama administration officials.

Pruitt confirmed that the phone booth was not certified as a SCIF – a facility used for secure communications to discuss classified information. The EPA already two SCIFs elsewhere in its headquarters, according to the GAO report.

Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office found that the EPA violated federal law by failing to notify Congress before spending more than $5,000 on the phone booth.

In a letter to the GAO, the EPA also argued that spending on the booth did not need to comply with the appropriations law because it was not an “aesthetic improvement,” but an expense to facilitate agency business. A decision by EPA’s general counsel disagreed with that finding, saying that it was a functional improvement and not just aesthetic.

Pruitt said the EPA is investigating that matter internally.

Pruitt seeks to clarify big raises for aides

Pruitt told the committee that he gave a top aide permission to give at least two EPA employees big raises, deviating from how he characterized authorization for these raises in the past.

A report from the EPA’s internal watchdog found that it was Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, who signed off on raises for 30-year-old senior legal counsel Sarah Greenwalt and 26-year-old scheduling director Millian Hupp under a little-known provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump listens while Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks after announcing the the withdrawal from the Paris accord in the Rose Garden of the White House, June 1, 2017.Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
President Donald Trump listens while Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks after announcing the the withdrawal from the Paris accord in the Rose Garden of the White House, June 1, 2017.

Thursday, Pruitt confirmed that he delegated that authority to Jackson.

In an interview that aired on Fox News earlier this month, Pruitt said he didn't know anything about the raises and that he has taken action to reverse the decision.

ABC News previously reported that two sources confirmed Pruitt pushed for the raises of two staffers but has not confirmed the amounts paid to these employees.

Protesters interrupt hearing

A small number of protesters wielding signs in the hearing room gallery disrupted the hearing.

Environmental subcommittee chairman Rep. John Shimkus stopped a line of hearing to address the protesters, warning them to remain quiet or get kicked out.

VIDEO: EPA administrator on the White Houses latest actions on the environmentPlay
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt previews new executive order

Protesters quieted when Capitol Police officers approached the gallery.

Members’ support of Pruitt falls along party lines

The Energy and Commerce Committee's ranking member, Rep. Frank Pallone, D.N.J., called Pruitt’s conduct in office “an embarrassment” when referring to reports that Pruitt has acted in retaliation against EPA officials who disagreed with his agenda or questioned the legitimacy of threats against the administrator.

PHOTO: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt arrives to the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 26, 2018.Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt arrives to the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 26, 2018.

In response to Rep. Pallone’s line of questioning, Pruitt said he did not recall taking retaliatory action against aides.

But the committee’s vice chairman, Rep. Joe Barton. R-Texas, defended Pruitt, saying that he's a victim of "Washington politics," and Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., scolded his Democratic colleagues for "grandstanding" and engaging in “McCarthyism” by attacking Pruitt over news reports.

In the second hearing of the day a Republican from West Virginia, Rep. Evan Jenkins, said that the EPA's decisions under Pruitt and President Donald Trump have brought his state "back to life."

"When you don't like the message, you shoot the messenger," Jenkins said.

Administrator Pruitt in his opening statement: “I have nothing to hide”

Administrator Pruitt addressed the slew of media reports directed at his conduct as agency chief in opening remarks to the committee.

“I recognize there have been very troubling media reports over the last few weeks,” Pruitt said, deviating from the prepared remarks released by the Committee on Wednesday. “I promise you that I, more than anyone, want to address the questions surrounding these reports.”

Pruitt called the media reports an attack on the administration and an effort to derail the agency’s agenda.

“A lie doesn’t become truth just because it’s on the front page of the newspaper,” Pruitt said.

ABC News' Katherine Faulders contributed to this report.

News - Highlights from Pruitt's marathon day on Capitol Hill

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  • Grampa S

    It's a we'll known fact that assassin's only fly coach.

  • Tegbessou Géléhéso

    Pruitt was hired to distract the public from all the other unethical and criminal conduct going on in the federal government.

  • Colinalcarz

    Once it was verified that he requested the security detail before he even claimed he was being threatened on flights, (which was disputable anyway) it became clear this guy was going in to milk the position for all it was worth.

  • Fermer Votre Bouche

    Consistent with Trump's basic criminal strategy: deny, delay, deflect, lie

  • Fran

    I come home after being gone all day to find Pruitt still at the EPA. Question...is it truly that easy to undo all the laws and regulations that have been put into place over the years? And after business and industry complied with all the regulations by updating their equipment, etc., do they really want to be unregulated? This is a serious question, I'm not being snarky. I know that's unusual for me.

  • MAGreenA

    Someone should make toilet paper with Pruitt's face on it. You could sell rolls with all proceeds going to fund NRDC and Environmental Defense Fund lawsuits.

  • MAGreenA

    Scott Pruitt's bob and weave, throw his staff under the bus, deflect and disregard style of communication is disgusting. We will no longer have an EPA when Trump and Dum-Witt are finished. The Endangered Species Act is now in their sites. He gives foot baths to chemical company CEOs and only knows how to rape and pillage the environment. We need to be able to prosecute for crimes against nature and humanity in light of climate change and the decisions these bozos are making that increase it's severity.

  • doubledouble

    Abusing taxpayers dollars is not the real crime here. The real crime is Pruitt’s systemic neutering of the EPA in favour of big business. He is supposed to be in charge of the best interests of the environment- not the best interests of Exxon Mobile.
    Questioning him about his spending habits is like putting a bank robber on trial for speeding.

  • THEFred

    As Robert Redford said in the Washington Post yesterday, the biggest Scott Pruitt scandal is the one right in front of us: "Pruitt has failed at the core responsibility of his job. He’s not protecting the environment."

  • Fermer Votre Bouche

    He is responsible for managing his department.
    When his department is mismanaged then he is responsible for that as well.
    In any commercial firm he would have been back in the unemployment line.

  • Erwin Schrodinger

    “It’s embarrassing that most of the Republicans refuse to take this committee’s oversight responsibility seriously,” Castor said.

    No, it is am embarrassment that most Republicans refuse to take their governing of the country seriously. Party before country!

    Interesting that Pruitt went with the 'I am not corrupt, I am incompetent' defense. But I guess the Repubs were satisfied with that.

  • Groundhog

    Another product of Trump's Uranus Corporation....

  • Ctrygrl

    Any manager of any kind of any organization who would throw his employees under the bus rather than take responsibility is nothing pond scum and has zero business managing anything

  • 40acre

    Highlights of the Pruitt meeting.
    "It wasn't me....It wasn't me."

  • CatBIRD2

    Polluters have most, not all, but most Republicas attempting a major cover up for Scott Pruitt.
    He's the subject of TEN federal investigations, he's breaking laws left & right & blaming his staff... He's gotta go!
    I say drug test Scott Pruitt right away.. I think he's addicted to a lot more than burning taxpayer dollars!

  • hucky01

    When all is said and done, a lot will have been said and nothing will be done. Until the Republican leadership grows a backbone, Donny is the king! Woe be to anyone that crosses the king!

  • tatanka

    “A lie doesn’t become truth just because it’s on the front page of the newspaper,” Pruitt said.

    Jumping on the fake news bandwagon. That'll help you with Trump.

  • Fran

    So will he be fired today? Isn't that when Trump fires people?

  • chooch

    Let's lay off Pruitt, it isn't his fault it is all his staff's fault. The buck stops there.

  • jn2222

    Pruitt is a criminal who belongs in prison. He is destroying our only chance at addressing climate change. He is guilty of crimes against humanity as are many in this new administration. There is no justification for the evil they do.

  • Kobrakai7272

    While I strongly disagree with basically every regulatory action the man has taken while in offfice, I can't dispute that the actions are within the purview of the head of the agency. The way to deal with his unconscionable disregard for environmental protection is to elect a new president.

    Having said that, his utter and despicable disregard for basic rules of open government and for spending our money is not... and can never be... acceptable. For this and this alone, he should be fired immediately.

  • molimelight

    He's probably right to fly 1st class. If I was seated next to him I would probably borrow someone's crying baby to hold for the entire flight.

  • Alfred E Neuman

    Until that slimeball Pruitt gets out of office, it needs to be renamed to the EDA - Environmental Destruction Agency.

  • Ray

    Mr. Pruitt is doing an awesome job as the leader of our Environmental Destruction Agency!!!

  • pfon71361

    As long as Pruitt keeps hacking away at the EPA's budget and regulations Trump will likely tolerate the negative press. The fact that this EPA head has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on first-class airfare and personal security would seem like small change to a president who frankly hires other people to count his money. Most would consider that $50.00 a night "market rate" luxury pad Scott rented from an energy industry lobbyist as a really unbelievable deal but Trump says any criticism is just sour grapes. The Pruitt led EPA seems to be only able to protect and maintain the "swamp" that the president promised would be drained.

  • Dicazi

    "I Don't Know" and "Not Me" are running amok in DC right now.

  • kritikosman

    Pruitt is a mad man yes man and a bona fide crook.

  • Robert

    "A lie is not a truth just because it is on the front page of a newspaper". Wow. What an amazing quote. Maybe he should have it framed and present it to his boss in the White House to hang in the oval office.

  • MidwestKris

    Do ya think that if he is finding he gets a lot more pushback from citizens than former EPA heads have that it might just have something to do with the fact that he is trying to destroy the EPA while wasting taxpayer dollars? That if he were doing a better job and was more fiscally cautious - he wouldn't be so universally hated? Ya think?

  • Armed and Psychotic Loner

    'I have nothing to hide'

    Generally the words of someone with plenty to hide.

  • Colinalcarz

    Pruitt doesn't expect to stay in much longer, he's amassing what fortunes he can and dismantling the agency as much as possible before he is sacked or quits. In the meantime, knowing he is hated by the majority of Americans (who tend to enjoy breathing clean air) he charges taxpayers for a security detail and first class travel so he can avoid being spit on as he cruises at 36,000 feet, far above the land he is charged with protecting.

  • Herron

    I think his many hours in congress can be summed up with this:

    "screw you, as I'm rich and deserve this, and Donald wants to have my baby. 'Dirtbag' is only a term used by the little people that I don't give a crapola about."

  • toejangle

    It is time to make Republicans pay a price for accepting this type of behavior-----They can't be trusted when they are in power because they put party before country....

  • doubledouble

    The biggest issue here is the nature of the new mission statement for the EPA.
    Pruitt has been put in charge of an agency that was formed to protect the environment for future generations of US citizens. Now, not so much.
    Unfortunately his sole purpose as head of that agency has been to systematically remove those protections in favour of big business interests.
    His cone of silence and lavish spending is really secondary to the larger problem of “who will protect the environment” considering the EPA’s new policies are now made to protect big business concerns, those who abuse the environment.

    EPA = Exxon Protection Agency

  • briteleaf

    Ladies and gentlemen, if you have never seen a "SWAMP IN DC" before, here is your chance to view the vastness of this landscape. Wish you could stay in a LOBBYIST-OWNED CONDO FOR $50 A NIGHT but I'm afraid you'll find the non-swamp rentals there cost many times as much as the lobbyist-funded condo of Mr. Pruitt. If you just adopt the care-free attitude about money that Mr. Pruitt has demonstrated with TAX-PAYER-DOLLARS, you may enjoy your visit to the SWAMP.

  • Jack25

    Both Repubs and Dems despise this crook and his corruption. Why isn’t he fired?

  • Curmudgathrope

    Even trying to stay open minded does not work. every piece of pruitts' explanation from day one, from his reasons to the expenses smells and stinks like coverups and lies. He was in charge of the Dept., so, like it or not, in that one aspect, there really is no throwing employees under the bus. It all belongs to him. Admonish, impeach, ridicule, whatever the harshest punishment may be, and toss his tush quickly. Fine him if in any way possible.

  • helico seek

    Rump drained the swamp and replaced it with a cesspool that stinks to high heaven. I've never seen a slimier group of people.

  • Mister West

    Pruitt was handpicked for EPA Director by the Liar-in-Chief, that should tell you the kind of nonsense to expect from him.

    Then the pusillanimous and feckless Republicans fall all over themselves defending the indefensible Pruitt.

  • Tegbessou Géléhéso

    $43K for a phone both is the very tip of the iceberg.

  • 40acre

    ----Pruitt shifted blame onto “career EPA officials” for erecting a private phone booth in the administrator’s office that cost more than $43,000.-----

    Well I, for one, believe him. His staff just made a lovely gesture to give him this Maxwell Smart cone of silence because they knew how totally paranoid he was. I do wonder why he didn't bother to question what was being done in his own office.

  • Ctrygrl

    As could be expected republicans let this p O S slide while democrats pointed up his lies, obfuscations and ridiculous answers. If he didn't approve those raises he is incompetent. The IG disputes his claims on "threats" as he reads from a memo made up by someone but not from the IG. He has a $43,000 cone of silence that he says doesn't work. The agency had two already but they were "rather far from my office" what is "rather far" and he can't go a floor to get to one. And what on earth is the head of the EPA doing anywhere to consult on "free trade". If the president wont fire this turkey, congress is totally derelict in their duty if they wont impeach him.

  • katerant

    See how sexism works? For Pruitt, the words 'marathon' and 'grilling' are used.

    I don't recall those terms being used when Hillary Clinton sat in that chair for 11 (ELEVEN) hours.

    Not a Hillary fan. Just sayin.

  • BGreene925

    Well he seems like a horrible human being.

  • novamcln

    Come on, Trumpsters! All that drain the swamp chanting... this is NOT what you voted for. Tell us why still support Pruitt/Trump or admit you made a mistake and get busy finding replacements for the con men that conned you.

  • Prophet With Honor

    Pruitt, the guy ahead of you at the big buffet piling food into the rubber pockets of his overcoat.

  • FfloydZzepp

    I cannot fathom any Republican, desperate for its own glory even silently allowing Pruitt to happen.

  • Treblig56

    Pruitt used a few pages of the 'Book of Trump' : When faced with negative facts, blame somebody else. When faced with an adverse opinion, say you are being treated unfairly.

  • Nothingburger

    "Tough questions"? Most of the republicans just made speeches about what a great job he was doing.

  • Sonora Nomad

    This business of yammering about onerous regulations may not be correct, may be a smoke screen. Who remembers in the mid-60s when auto makers were tasked with installing seat belts? Sweet Jeebus, the car makers went all trump, howling and yowling about how that requirement would bankrupt them. Ah...not so, grasshopper. It seems raising the bar is better than lowering it. We should think about this before the EPA guts clean air and water standards.

  • kritikosman

    It's sad that this fella Pruitt even has the job--but this is the Trump apparatus in question.

  • Use-your-intelligence

    I think it's important to note the public officials that didn't speak out against him as well as an affirmation of how they really think our tax money should be spent. Every single one of them should no longer have a job funded by tax payer money and they should be voted out of office in the next election.