Democratic lawmaker letter casts doubt on Pruitt security needs

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Washington (CNN)Two Democratic senators say they have evidence that shows the Environmental Protection Agency may be overstating the need for 24/7 security and first class travel for Administrator Scott Pruitt.

In a letter asking for hearings on the expensive security apparatus for Pruitt, the Democrats cite threat assessment documents from the Secret Service that were provided by a whistleblower that maintain EPA has relied on non-violent protests, negative feedback and "other First Amendment-protected activity, to justify millions of dollars in additional security spending, including first-class air travel, as compared to his predecessors at the agency."
The documents Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Tom Carper relied on are not public, and CNN was not able to review them. They are asking Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso for hearings on the issue. Barrasso, R-Wyoming, has defended Pruitt in recent days.
"We're happy with the things he's done," he told CNN's Manu Raju Monday.
    CNN has reported that the EPA Inspector General found there were numerous serious threats against Pruitt.
    "They run the variety of direct death threats -- 'I'm going to put a bullet in your brain' -- to implied threats -- 'if you don't classify this particular chemical in this particular way, I'm going to hurt you,'" assistant inspector general Patrick Sullivan told CNN.
    But the Democrats' letter says that the assessments from the US Secret Service identify no "reports of behaviors of interest" against Pruitt, and says that "an internal EPA Intelligence Office report that disputes the administrator's claims that the nature of the threats against him justify his expenditures."
    Pruitt's unprecedented security includes a staff of 20 agents providing round-the-clock coverage, even when he is not on official business. Pruitt has come under scrutiny for taking security on family vacations, frequent trips home to Oklahoma, and to sporting events. The costs have totaled above $2 million, and have included sweeps of his office, biometric locks on his office and first-class airline travel.
    The Carper-Whitehouse letter cites a memo from William Stull, special agent on Pruitt's private security detail, to Nino Perrotta, the detail's special agent in charge, which summarizes available threat information and shows 16 threats directed against Pruitt.
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    The threats the Democrats cite include: Protestors attempting to disrupt a Pruitt speech at a closed-door event, a social media post where an individual "stated he is not happy with some of the administrator's policies and wanted to express his displeasure," a postcard saying "CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL!!! We are watching you. For the sake of our planet, our children & our grandchildren, will you be a reasonable man? I repeat, we are watching you!" and an email stating: "Hi, I am considering dumping the old paint I just scraped off of my home outside your office door on Tuesday."
    "Notably, none of the incidents listed in this report concerned air travel," the senators wrote.
    The letter says an October 17, 2017, threat assessment states that "at the time there were 'no known investigations underway concerning threats to Scott Pruitt' by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and that an open-source review of social media uncovered 'no evidence of a direct threat to the Administrator's life or physical well-being.'"
    Another document cited in the letter, but not provided publicly, is a February 14 memo from EPA's Office of Homeland Security Intelligence Team the Democrats say concludes that a threat was being mischaracterized by the security detail and the Inspector General and "DOES NOT employ sound analysis or articulate relevant 'threat specific' information appropriate to draw any resource or level of threat conclusions regarding the protection posture for the administrator."
    "EPA Intelligence has not identified any specific credible direct threat to the EPA Administrator," the memo states, as described by the senators.
    EPA Intelligence has "not seen any analysis to indicate why the Administrator would be at any greater risk on a commercial airline than any other passenger, or why a trained EPA (Private Security Detail) member could not protect the Administrator in a different location on the aircraft [than in the business or first-class section]," the memo adds.
    The letter also cites two requested queries from the Secret Service in February, asking for potential threats against Pruitt which did not turn up "reports of behaviors of interest directed toward EPA Administrator Pruitt."
    In response to the letter, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said Pruitt's security is based on the number of threats against the administrator.
    "Scott Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him and these threat assessments are conducted within (the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance) using information collected from the PSD, EPA's Office of Homeland Security, and Inspector General," Wilcox told CNN. "Americans should all agree that members of the President's Cabinet should be kept safe from these violent threats."