Even at the time, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s trip to Morocco last December seemed odd. Between visiting solar installations and meeting with phosphate industry officials, the United States’ top environmental officer spent a substantial amount of time trying to sell American natural gas, a fossil fuel, to the Moroccans. Meanwhile, his business-class tickets, luxury hotel accommodations and round-the-clock security detail seemed like overkill for a not particularly productive trip.
Now, following new details revealed by The Post’s Kevin Sullivan, Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, Pruitt’s December jaunt seems even sketchier. Portions of it were arranged by a former Comcast lobbyist who had become close to the administrator — and who shortly thereafter registered as an agent for the Moroccan government, promoting the kingdom in return for a whopping $40,000 a month. That lobbyist, Richard Smotkin, even accompanied Pruitt on some of his activities. It appears that either Pruitt knew that Smotkin might profit from the official trip he was taking, which an EPA spokesman denies, or he got played. Either way, these details illustrate an untoward coziness with lobbyists that had already made Pruitt the subject of multiple federal investigations.
The trip’s particulars also underscore Pruitt’s habit of wasting taxpayer money on private indulgences. His airline tickets — on Delta Air Lines, the carrier he regularly insisted on flying — cost $16,217. He stayed in luxury hotels in Paris and Morocco. He brought eight staffers and 24-hour security. The total cost came out to some $100,000, even though Pruitt appears not to have come close to accomplishing $100,000 worth of work in his brief visit.
In another costly foreign voyage to Italy, the New York Times reported Tuesday, parts of Pruitt’s schedule were arranged by another outside figure, conservative legal activist Leonard A. Leo.
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Leo even rode in the administrator’s motorcade despite the objections of EPA staff. One former agency official told the Times that when Leo or Smotkin called with a request, “We did it, it doesn’t matter what it was.”
Meanwhile, the Times also revealed Tuesday that the lobbyist whose wife rented Pruitt a room in a Capitol Hill condominium on generous terms had asked the administrator for help placing three people on the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. The request came the month after Pruitt moved out of the condo, when the administrator still owed money to the lobbyist’s wife. Both Pruitt and J. Steven Hart, the lobbyist, had previously played down the suggestion that Hart sought any special treatment from the EPA, denials that have become steadily less credible.
Pruitt has crammed a lifetime’s worth of ethical failings into less than a year and a half in office. How much longer will President Trump continue to tolerate this swamp creature in his administration?
This editorial originally was published by The Washington Post.