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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Defends Himself On Capitol Hill


On Capitol Hill today, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, knew exactly what he was heading into - a grilling. Over months, a growing number of controversies have hounded Pruitt, accusing him of ethics violations and improper spending.


Today lawmakers from both parties brought up the allegations. Some defended the administrator. Many questioned him. Pruitt defended himself fiercely.


SCOTT PRUITT: Facts are facts, and fiction is fiction. And a lie doesn't become truth just because it appears on the front page of the newspaper. Much of what has been targeted towards me and my team has been half-truths or at best stories that have been so twisted they do not resemble reality.

CHANG: Pruitt has drawn scrutiny for high spending on security detail, expensive flights and a $43,000 soundproof booth in his office. He rented a condo on Capitol Hill from the wife of an energy lobbyist. He's been accused of giving large raises to two close aides. And reports allege he retaliated against agency employees who raised concerns by demoting or reassigning them. As a result, Pruitt's actions are now the subject of a number of different federal investigations.

SHAPIRO: At today's hearings, he had ample opportunity to address those charges. Tony Cardenas, Democrat of California, asked about the $43,000 soundproof booth in Pruitt's office. Pruitt deflected the blame.


PRUITT: I did have a phone call that came in of a sensitive nature, and I did not have access to secure communications. I gave direction to my staff to address that. And out of that came a $43,000 expenditure that I did not approve. That is something that should...

TONY CARDENAS: Well - so you're not taking responsibility for the $43,000 that was spent in your office. You're saying that staff did it without your knowledge.

PRUITT: Career individuals at the agency took that process through and signed off on it all the way through.

CARDENAS: OK. So you were not involved in that.

PRUITT: I was not involved in the approval of the $43,000. And if I'd known about it, Congressman, I would've refused it.

CHANG: Most Democrats were combative. Republicans, on the other hand, were friendlier, especially those from deeply red districts.


JOE BARTON: If you can't debate the policies in Washington, you attack the personality. And that's what's happening to you.

CHANG: Joe Barton of Texas offered a platform for Pruitt to defend himself.


BARTON: You've been attacked for flying first class. Is that illegal?

PRUITT: Congressman, that was approved by the travel office and the security team at the EPA. I've since made changes to that. But that...

BARTON: But it's not illegal.

PRUITT: It is not.

BARTON: It may look bad, but it's not illegal.

SHAPIRO: But other Republicans, mostly from parts of the country that are more politically mixed, joined Democrats in expressing concerns about the administrator's behavior.


RYAN COSTELLO: I think the opprobrium that you've generated on some of these spending decisions is actually warranted. And I've reviewed your answers. And I find some of them lacking or insufficient.

SHAPIRO: Ryan Costello, Republican of Pennsylvania, pressed Pruitt on his security spending.


COSTELLO: And I'm just going to be very honest with you. When folks read about trips to Disneyland, professional basketball games, Rose Bowl and the additional security detail related to that, that doesn't sit well with a lot of people.

PRUITT: So I can - Congressman, I can read directly from an inspector general threat investigation. And I can provide this to you. This is...

SHAPIRO: Pruitt read from an inspector general report that detailed threatening communications. The seriousness of those threats has been disputed.

CHANG: Despite the media attention on the ethical controversies, much of the hearings focused on environmental policy. And on those questions Pruitt was more forthcoming. Many Republicans thanked him for his work at the agency. Democrats pushed on his efforts to roll back Obama-era regulations. Chellie Pingree, Democrat of Maine, said her constituents were worried about climate change and its effect on her state's coastline.


CHELLIE PINGREE: How do I go home and tell them that the administrator of the EPA doesn't want to put resources in this, doesn't actually believe in it and said, oh, maybe we're getting some benefit out of this? How do you defend that?

PRUITT: Well, as I've indicated many times - I've said it over and over again - the climate's warming, and we contribute to it. But what's lost in this discussion is what authority does the EPA have to regulate? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.