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Scott Pruitt, the Wall Street Journal, and Trump's Swamp

The WSJ is quite happy to overlook the particulars of the swamp of misconduct in which Mr. Pruitt swam during his tenure.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt—who resigned eaerlier this month—speaking after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement in the Rose Garden at the White House June 1, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

"The name of the slough was 'Despond.' Here, therefore, they wallowed for a time, being grievously bedaubed with the dirt. . . ." —John Bunyan, A Pilgrim’s Progress

It was such a nicely written letter, beautifully typed, and of impeccable logic. In it Scott Pruitt explained why he resigned, and it had nothing to do with his behavior while serving as Administrator of the EPA. In the second sentence of his letter of resignation he said, in what was probably an unintentional but very straightforward acknowledgement of his conduct, that Mr. Trump’s confidence in him “has blessed me personally.” He was not, of course, referring to the blessings he received that were the ultimate reason he was forced out. He was forced out, he said: “because of “the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family” that “have taken a sizable toll on all of us.” The letter, of course, made no reference to any of his conduct that gave rise to more than twelve investigations.

A Wall Street Journal editorial that appeared the day after Mr. Pruitt’s resignation was announced, was captioned: “Pruitt Drowns in the Swamp.” The swamp to which the editorial writers refer was not, as readers might have thought, the swamp that Mr. Pruitt had created. That swamp contained the $48,000 phone booth installed in Mr. Pruitt’s office, a phone booth that Clark Kent would have been thrilled to use when changing into his superman outfit. It contained flunkies sent to buy used mattresses and skin cream. It contained first class airplane tickets, 24-hour protection, and elaborate convoys when travelling by car. And that is only a partial list. One would be forgiven for thinking that the swamp to which the WSJ was referring was the one in which Mr. Pruitt swam. A reading of the editorial disabused the reader of that notion.

The first six words of the editorial instructed: “Chalk one up for the swamp.” It went on to explain that the swamp to which it was referring was the “permanent progressive state” that “finally ran Scott Pruitt out of the Environmental Protection Agency.” The editors of the WSJ did not view Mr. Pruitt as one of the most prominent alligators living in the swamp because of the ingenious ways he found to translate his position into personal profit and self-aggrandizement. Instead, it attributed his downfall to Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg who, it says, were out to get him, and to “the EPA bureaucracy that leans left, the green lobby entwined with it, and their collaborators in the press corps.”

The WSJ is quite happy to overlook the particulars of the swamp of misconduct in which Mr. Pruitt swam during his tenure. The writers state that allegations that “he misused private air travel, sent staff on personal errands, and bought $1,560 worth of pens, among dozens of other allegations,” allegations that Mr. Pruitt described as “false or exaggerated.” probably were false and exaggerated.

In further defense of Mr. Pruitt, and placing the blame for his departure on what the WSJ calls the “left,” it suggested that to be successful Mr. Pruitt “had to avoid even the hint of an ethical question” and “he should have been walking around Federal Triangle handcuffed to a general counsel.”

The WSJ also praised Mr. Pruitt for updating “advisory science boards that have been stacked with members who receive EPA grants.” At the time he appointed those representatives Mr. Pruitt held a press conference in which he explained the reasons for rearranging the composition of the boards by making reference to the book of Joshua in the Bible. He referred to the story of Joshua leading the people of Israel into the promised land following the death of Moses, and telling them they would now have to decide whom they would serve. Mr. Pruitt described the rearrangement of the commission as making use of the “Joshua Principle.” Scientists would have to decide whether to serve on EPA independent advisory boards, or receive grants from the agency. They could no longer do both. He replaced members who had received grants with “voices from regulated industries, academics and environmental regulators from conservative states and researchers who have a history of critiquing the science and economics underpinning tighter environmental regulations.” The WSJ conveniently overlooked those appointments. Included among the appointees were Texas’s top toxicologist, Michael Honeycutt, who was appointed to lead the Scientific Advisory Board, and Consultant, Louise Anthony Cox, who chairs the “Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.” Mr. Honeycutt has said that the EPA overstates the risks that are associated with mercury and has disregarded science that “demonstrates a chemical is not as toxic as it thinks it is.” Ms. Cox has said that the methods for calculating the public health benefits are “unreliable, logically unsound, and inappropriate for drawing casual inferences.”

The WSJ closes its defense of Scott Pruitt, and its attacks on those it describes as his “defenestrators,” by reminding readers of Mr. Pruitt’s use of first class air travel that cost tax payers $105,000 in the first year he was in office. It suggests that to avoid receiving the kind of unjust treatment from creatures living in the swamp inhabited by the left, that Mr. Pruitt received, the members of the Trump cabinet should fly coach. Only the editors of the WSJ would think that by itself, that one action would drain the swamp in which Mr. Trump and his cabinet swim. Would that it were so.

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Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. He can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com

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