“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana
It appears that several of President Trump’s senior appointees have forgotten that lesson. Most notable among them are Tom Price and now David Shulkin, whose lavish, travel-in-style habits helped get them fired.
Scott Pruitt looks to be the next in line.
Like Price and Shulkin, the Environmental Protection Agency chief also seems blithely unaware the lesson learned the hard way by John Sununu, who served as President George H.W. Bush’s first White House chief of staff.
A former governor of New Hampshire, Sununu ruled with a brusque, iron fist that offended people throughout the Bush administration.
But that’s not what ultimately did him in.
Rather, it was Sununu’s flagrant disregard for husbanding taxpayer money as he took 77 flights aboard government and chartered aircraft at a cost of about $500,000 from 1989-1991—to GOP fundraisers, his dentist in Boston, for family ski trips in tony Vail Ski Resort.
He even once commandeered a government limo to drive him to a stamp auction in New York City, where he bought $5,000 in rare stamps—only to send the car back empty while he flew back to DC aboard a chartered jet. Under a cloud of controversy, Sununu resigned in late 1991.
Only Price has to date topped Sununu’s brazen misuse of taxpayer money—the former health secretary racked up $1 million in travel expenses before resigning last year. But Pruitt may be well on his way toward becoming the second Trump official to surpass Sununu’s record for wasteful travel and ethical lapses.
In just one year, Pruitt has flown at least several dozen times in first-class, in business class and on chartered jets—all on the taxpayer’s dime, to the tune of more than $200,000.
Pruitt tried defending his first-class travel as required for his safety by his security detail, and said he’s been threatened by passengers.
The EPA chief recently changed his tune, and pledged to fly coach, but there are still many months where his travel records are unavailable. The EPA has released records for only the first half of last year, and some of those have spurred ongoing investigations by the EPA’s inspector general.
A single trip to Italy—which he took to attend a G7 ministers meeting on the environment—cost $84,000, including expenses for his 24-7 security detail and staff. While in Italy, Pruitt took a pasta-making class, and left the G7 meeting early, flew back to DC in Emirates Airlines' luxurious business class cabin to attend a fawning Cabinet meeting with Trump.
Pruitt’s also flown frequently first-class to go home to Oklahoma and spent $40,000 lavish hotels and travel to promote fossil fuels in Morocco. These trips are under IG investigation.
This week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse raised new questions about Pruitt’s use and the cost of his 24-hour security, charging Pruitt with using the detail for non-official business—for trips home to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a family vacation to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl game. Whitehouse sent a letter to the inspector general with information he said he obtained from a confidential source and asked for another investigation.
And earlier this week, “condo-gate” surfaced when ABC reported that Pruitt lived most of last year in a Capitol Hill condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist.
He paid just $50 a night for a prime real estate room that would cost many times that much on Airbnb, prompting Public Citizen to request another IG investigation into whether the arrangement violated rules barring public officials from taking gifts from lobbyists. His daughter apparently also stayed in the condo, raising additional questions about the special arrangement.
In addition to his travel scandal and sweetheart condo deal, Pruitt’s spent the last year attempting to sabotage the EPA’s mission to protect public health.
He’s sought to slash EPA’s budget by 31 percent--cuts now twice rejected by Congress--he's back asking to cut next year’s budget 23 percent. He’s tearing down health and environmental safeguards that protect us from air and water pollution and toxic chemicals. He’s stamped out science at the EPA and put polluters first while putting the rest of us at risk of harm. And he’s abandoned the fight against dangerous climate change.
Enough is enough. Like Sununu, Price and Shulkin, Scott Pruitt has become what no political appointee wants to be–an embarrassment to the president. Trump should summon Pruitt to the White House, and fire him. Or just tweet: It’s time for Pruitt to go.