A pair of Senate Democrats said Tuesday they’ve seen private assessments that show EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has not faced the kind of threats he’s claimed, and that the agency’s spending on a full-time security detail for Mr. Pruitt isn’t warranted.
In a letter released Tuesday morning, Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island released parts of confidential materials — including an “internal EPA Intelligence Office report” — that they contend prove Mr. Pruitt and his aides are greatly exaggerating the nature and number of threats against the administrator.
However, the Republican panel chairman to whom their note was directed called the claims groundless and chided them for selectively releasing confidential information.
Later Tuesday, the EPA removed the official who signed off on the internal reports cited by Mr. Carper and Mr. Whitehouse.
The agency denied that the dismissal of Mario Caraballo, who had been deputy associate administrator of EPA’s Office of Homeland Security, was related to internal reviews of Mr. Pruitt’s security detail.
“We do not comment on personnel matters. The action today was based on a recommendation by the Office of Administration and Resources Management. I am not aware of any connection between the personnel matter and the document mentioned in media reports,” said Donna Vizian, EPA’s principal deputy assistant administrator.
The Democrats’ accusations come at a time when Mr. Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, is facing criticism on a number of fronts, including his $50-per-night condo rental from the wife of a prominent oil industry lobbyist and questions about whether he knew about unauthorized pay raises given to several of his top aides.
On the issue of security, the EPA routinely states Mr. Pruitt has faced many more serious threats than his predecessors but has declined to elaborate on the specifics. Democrats say that’s because the supposed threats are little more than the routine political opposition with which virtually all federal officials must deal.
“It is hard to reconcile the public statements of EPA, and the president, with these internal and external assessments. It may be that the materials we have been provided are incomplete and that EPA has additional information that justifies its public position,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, asking that the panel hold immediate hearings on the matter.
“However, another view is that certain factions within EPA have justified the exorbitant taxpayer spending incurred by the administrator’s first-class travel and large entourage of security personnel through unsubstantiated claims about threats to his security,” they continued. “Either way, the EPW Committee has a responsibility to look into these matters.”
Mr. Pruitt, who has come under increasing pressure to resign, including from a handful of congressional Republicans, has spent at least $3 million on 24/7 security since assuming his post in February 2017, according to the Associated Press. His security detail has accompanied him on official business and on private trips, such as a family vacation to Disneyland.
Mr. Pruitt also frequently traveled first class on flights, and the agency has said that’s due to specific threats.
But in their letter, Mr. Carper and Mr. Whitehouse cite a document between two officials with Mr. Pruitt’s protective detail describing some of those alleged threats. They include: protesters disrupting speeches; a postcard sent to Mr. Pruitt saying “CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL”; and an email saying, “Hi, I am considering dumping the old paint I just scraped off of my house outside your office door on Tuesday.”
In his own statement later Tuesday, Mr. Barrasso blasted his Democratic colleagues for releasing private security assessments and said in no uncertain terms that he will not schedule a hearing on the issue.
He also suggested that a full reading of the documents cited by Democrats would back up the EPA’s claim of legitimate security concerns around Mr. Pruitt and his family.
“I am deeply troubled that members of the committee would publicly release law enforcement sensitive information regarding the safety and security of a Cabinet member and his family,” Mr. Barrasso said. “This letter selectively quotes non-public documents.”
“Any reasonable reading of these documents supports the Office of the Inspector General’s statements that administrator Pruitt faces a ‘variety of direct death threats,’” he continued. “This is exactly why members should not publicly disclose information that relates to the safety of a cabinet member. It is also why this committee will not hold a hearing on this issue.”
Mr. Pruitt’s security detail also is reportedly the subject of an EPA Inspector General review.