The Environmental Protection Agency pointed to social media posts that were critical of Administrator Scott Pruitt to help justify his massive security expenses, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
However, some lawmakers and top EPA officials say that, although such posts may be frequent, there’s little evidence to suggest that any of them were direct threats requiring a response or that they warranted Pruitt’s frequent use of first-class and business-class tickets and a 20-person security team to protect him from the general public. The cost of Pruitt’s security detail, including salaries and travel, has been estimated at nearly $3 million, according to The Associated Press.
For months, the EPA justified the expenses as necessary because of a sharp uptick in threats, including what a spokesman referred to as “an unprecedented amount of death threats.” In one instance, the agency’s Office of Criminal Enforcement told Politico that Pruitt was “approached at the airport numerous times, to the point of profanities being yelled at him.”
But two Democrats, Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, said in a letter Tuesday to Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) that they were provided with an internal EPA document that said a threat assessment did not justify such expenses. The agency document, which the senators did not publicly release, said EPA officials repeatedly tried to tell senior leadership that “the ‘threat’ to the administrator was being inappropriately mischaracterized” by Pruitt’s security detail.
“The memo states that ... ‘EPA Intelligence has not identified any specific credible direct threat to the EPA Administrator,” the lawmaker’s letter, obtained by the Times, states. The assessment, they said, “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.”
Mario Caraballo, a top EPA staffer who helped draft the internal memo, was fired Tuesday, Politico reported. The agency declined to comment on the dismissal, but a source told Politico that Caraballo was removed over a personnel issue and that agency leadership was unhappy with his report.
“They’re trying right now to just keep pressure on the wound,” an unnamed source told Politico. “They’re trying to find out where these leaks are coming from .... They’re in full panic mode right now.”
Pruitt is dealing with a spate of ethics charges and government inquiries over issues including his premium air travel, round-the-clock security and a sweetheart condo rental last year from an energy lobbyist’s wife.