Something amazing happened Thursday morning on Capitol Hill.
At issue: Two EPA employees had received early raises totaling more than $80,000 – end-running the White House, which opposed the salary increases, in the process.
The bombshell – first reported by The Atlantic – was denied by Pruitt. He added that he didn’t know who had signed off on the raises despite the fact that his chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, had signed off on them with Pruitt’s proxy. And that, in an email, one of the two people who received the raises said she had gotten approval from the administrator himself.
Then came Pruitt’s testimony in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday. Under questioning from New York Rep. Paul Tonko, Pruitt acknowledged that he did have some knowledge of the raises.
“I was not aware of the amount,” said Pruitt, trying to find some way that he hadn’t lied to Ed Henry in that Fox interview. “Nor was I aware of the bypassing or the [Presidential Personnel Office] process not being respected.”
Don’t bother trying to square that circle. Because it doesn’t make any sense. On Fox News, Pruitt said he found out about the raises the day before The Atlantic broke the news. On Thursday, he said he knew about them beforehand.
HOW IS THIS NOT A BIGGER DEAL?
Even if Pruitt hadn’t had any other problems during his time overseeing the EPA – and he’s had LOTS of them – this would amount to a fireable offense in most offices, much less in the White House.
- Pruitt knew about the raises for two of his top aides
- His chief of staff – using his proxy – signed off on the raises
- Pruitt told Fox News that he found out about the raises only when the news of them broke
Reports out of the White House suggest that chief of staff John Kelly – and others – have urged Trump to get rid of Pruitt, who has faced more than two months straight of unrelentingly negative headlines. Trump has been, to this point, resistant to such a move, believing that Pruitt continues to do the job well. (Pruitt has proposed rolling back a number of environmental regulations approved under President Barack Obama – a major focus for Trump.)
The question going forward is whether Pruitt’s admission that he lied about what he knew and when he knew it with regard to the raises for his subordinates is the last straw for Trump. Given how badly damaged Pruitt already is, it’s hard to imagine how this revelation doesn’t function as a sort of cherry on top of his firing/resignation sundae.
But this is Donald Trump we are talking about. A man who has made a career zigging when everyone else zags.
Still, this one seems beyond reasonable debate.