Aide: Pruitt wanted to become attorney general
A former aide to Scott Pruitt, who resigned Thursday as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, testified to the House Oversight Committee that Pruitt had discussed with her his desire to become attorney general, according to excerpts of interview transcripts released by the committee’s top Democrat.
Samantha Dravis, who was Pruitt’s top policy adviser at the EPA, told lawmakers she had more than one conversation with Pruitt about his desire to become attorney general, according to a transcript included in a letter from Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, to the EPA’s inspector general, Arthur Elkins.
The disclosure comes after CNN reported that Pruitt had directly appealed to President Donald Trump earlier this year, urging him to fire Jeff Sessions and let him run the Department of Justice instead.
In a statement after the initial publication of that story, Pruitt said, “This report is simply false. General Sessions and I are friends and I have always said I want nothing more than to see him succeed in his role.”
According to an excerpt from the transcript of her interview with the panel, Dravis responded affirmatively when asked whether her former boss was hoping to become attorney general instead of Sessions.
“He hinted at that some sort of conversation had taken place between he and the President,” Dravis said. “But he did not provide me with specifics. I was not present for the conversation. I don’t know what, if anything, was discussed.”
The new revelatory details came in the letter from Cummings to the EPA’s inspector general, in which Cummings calls on Elkins to investigate Pruitt’s conduct. In the letter, Cummings said it appears that Pruitt is “forsaking the true task of the EPA while abusing his authority and promoting his own political ambitions.”
“It is imperative that your office independently investigate these allegations in order to protect the agency’s critical mission,” Cummings said in the letter.
The letter came the same day Trump announced that Pruitt had resigned, and that his deputy, Andrew Wheeler, would take over as acting administrator on Monday. Pruitt has for months been facing questions about his practices as administrator, including first-class travel, enlisting aides to do personal favors for him and members of his family, and his cozy relationships with industry.
The House Oversight Committee is investigating Pruitt’s actions at the EPA, and last month interviewed Dravis, who left the agency earlier this year, and Pruitt’s chief of staff Ryan Jackson. The interviews with members of Pruitt’s staff provide new details about other practices in his office, including removing meetings from Pruitt’s calendars and schedules.
CNN reported earlier this week that Pruitt and his aides kept “secret” calendars and schedules to hide controversial meetings or calls with industry representatives and others, according to Kevin Chmielewski, his former deputy chief of staff for operations.
One such event was the June 2017 meetings between Pruitt and Cardinal George Pell, who was charged weeks later with multiple historical charges of sexual offenses. Pell has pleaded not guilty.
Millan Hupp, who worked as Pruitt’s scheduling director, told the committee that another EPA staff member — Mark Kasman — had raised concerns about the meeting to Chmielewski and her during a meeting.
“He brought it up to Kevin Chmielewski and myself during a meeting we had with him in his office,” Hupp said, adding that she did not remember whether she had shared those concerns with anyone else.
Hupp also testified that Jackson requested that she remove Pell’s name from an itinerary.
“There was an instance when Cardinal Pell was to be a point of contact on one of the Vatican tours, and it was requested that I remove his name as the point of contact,” she said, but added that she did not recall Jackson telling her why.
Jackson, who also testified to the committee, told lawmakers he did not recall anyone raising questions about whether Pruitt should meet with Pell. He also said that a dinner last summer with Pell in Rome was not on Pruitt’s schedule because it was “personal” and that there was “no EPA business there.”
“We just need to ensure that if he had an official meeting, that the participants are there,” Jackson said of the schedule. “If he has a personal dinner and we know the participants, then we may or may not release it, but it either has to be thorough or not be included, especially if it’s a personal dinner. In this case, in this event, there was, you know, a dinner one of the evenings when we were in Rome. There were, I think, 15 people there. I mean, it was not an official function at all. It was simply getting dinner.”
“Cardinal Pell was there, but so were a dozen, 15 other people,” Jackson added. “I don’t even know who they … all were. So in that case, I don’t know what got produced on the schedule.”
CNN previously revealed that, in addition to that dinner, Pruitt had two additional meetings with Pell. One was a lunch with the cardinal, and the second was part of a Vatican tour.
Hupp also told the committee that “personal” lunches the administrator attended may not have appeared on his official schedule. She said she had scheduled one personal lunch for Pruitt, with Richard Smotkin, the lobbyist who helped organize the administrator’s trip to Morocco last year.
Asked what made that lunch personal, Hupp said Smotkin “just wanted to catch up” and that he was bringing his young daughter along.
Legal experts who were previously interviewed by CNN have said the practice of keeping secret calendars, or altering and deleting the records of meetings, could potentially violate federal law.
The interviews also provided additional details about the extent to which Pruitt’s aides did personal favors for him and for members of his family. Dravis testified to the committee that the administrator requested her help in finding his wife a job as a political fundraiser, as previously reported by The New York Times.
In her interview, Dravis said Pruitt requested that she call his wife and discuss “what she might be interested in doing, as well as, you know, what potential jobs might be out there for her.”
She said that in that conversation, Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn, “expressed more of a comfort in doing something that would focus on administrative tasks and event planning and something like that.”
Dravis also said she encouraged Pruitt to discuss the situation with Justina Fugh, EPA’s senior counsel for ethics.
“I remember telling him right out of the gate that: Just so you’re aware, any income your spouse would earn will have to be disclosed on your financial disclosure,” Dravis told the committee. “And he responded that he was planning to set up an LLC. And I remember saying: OK, well, you know, this is something you’re going to want to definitely check with Justina on.”
Dravis told the committee that Pruitt told her he instead planned to speak with Cleta Mitchell, the lawyer managing his legal defense fund.