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As The Scandals Mount, Conservatives Turn On Scott Pruitt

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks at the Faith and Freedom conference in Washington, DC, on June. Pruitt is facing multiple ethics scandals from his actions since taking over the agency.
Mark Wilson
Getty Images
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks at the Faith and Freedom conference in Washington, DC, on June. Pruitt is facing multiple ethics scandals from his actions since taking over the agency.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. ET

Amid an unceasing series of revelations about alleged ethical misconduct, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is rapidly losing support with influential Republican lawmakers and conservatives who, until now, have strongly backed Pruitt and the pro-fossil fuel deregulatory agenda he's implemented.

In recent days, new reports have emerged showing that Pruitt repeatedly used his position to seek employment and business opportunities for his wife, and had agency staffers doing personal errands on his behalf — both allegations that could run afoul of federal ethics laws. At least a dozen investigations are underway into various aspects of Pruitt's conduct.

"PRUITT BAD JUDGMENT HURTING @POTUS, GOTTA GO," tweeted influential conservative talk radio host and Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham on Wednesday.

"It just doesn't look good. If you want to drain the swamp, you got to have people in it who forego personal benefits and don't send your aides around doing personal errands on the taxpayer dime, otherwise you make everyone else look bad," said Ingraham on her radio show on Wednesday.

"All these things that are coming are really not good things," said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. in an interview with Ingraham. "I've kind of taken the position that if that doesn't stop, I'm going to be forced to be in a position where I'm going to say, 'Scott you're not doing your job.'"

Inhofe is one of Pruitt's political mentors and allies from his home state of Oklahoma and said the Senate should hold hearings into Pruitt's scandals.

"I support Sen. Inhofe's call for a hearing on EPA Administrator Pruitt's scandals; and I continue to urge the President to take a hard look at Mr. Pruitt's actions — as I do not feel that Mr. Pruitt is serving President Trump's best interests," tweeted Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa later in the day. Ernst and fellow Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley have particularly clashed with Pruitt over rules around the use of ethanol.

Conservative condemnation of Pruitt's behavior has stepped up as Pruitt's ethical problems have deepened.

The American Future Fund, a political nonprofit, is running a campaign-style television ad calling Pruitt a "swamp monster" and using a clip of President Trump when he hosted "The Apprentice" saying "You're fired."

A scathing editorial published by the National Review said, "we are now at a point where a good week for Pruitt sees only one report of behavior that is bizarre or venal."

"This is no way for any public official to treat taxpayers," the influential conservative magazine continued. "It also makes it practically impossible for Pruitt to make the case for the Trump administration's environmental policies — a case that we continue to believe deserves to be made."

Deputy administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, would be a likely candidate for the job, were it to be vacated by Pruitt.

In his interview with Ingraham, Inhofe suggested that it could be a "good swap" if Wheeler took over the EPA.

During a regular press conference, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., deflected questions about Pruitt's controversies. "Frankly, I haven't paid that close attention to them."

So far, Pruitt's ethical lapses have not crimped President Trump's support for his top environmental regulator.

"Scott Pruitt is doing a great job within the walls of the EPA. I mean, we're setting records," said Trump last week. "Outside, he's being attacked very viciously by the press. And I'm not saying that he's blameless, but we'll see what happens."

All of this fits a Washington pattern, said former congressman, now-lobbyist Tom Davis.

"Scott's got some really powerful enemies in this town. And they're not gonna let up," Davis said, referring to a treasure trove of EPA emails that environmental groups got through Freedom Of Information requests. But the emails only documented Pruitt's conduct.

"It looks to me like the snowball is rolling down hill and it's just gathering more and more," said Davis. "I don't know what he does to reverse it at this point."

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Brett Neely is an editor with NPR's Washington Desk, where he works closely with NPR Member station reporters on political coverage and edits stories about election security and voting rights.
Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.