Scandal plagued EPA chief Scott Pruitt resigns

President Trump announced Thursday that EPA chief Scott Pruitt had resigned. Pruitt has been plagued by scandals over the past few months, so what led to his resignation now?

In a tweet, Trump said he had accepted Pruitt's resignation and that Andrew Wheeler, Pruitt's deputy, would take the top job on an acting basis.

"Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this. ... We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!” Trump tweeted.

Even as more than a dozen investigations were initiated by EPA’s inspector general, the House Oversight Committee, the White House, the GAO and the Oklahoma Bar Association, Trump continued to publicly backed Pruitt, who was strongly supported by many conservatives.

One Republican close to the White House said that Trump's support for Pruitt dropped with the realization that Wheeler could easily carry out the same regulatory rollback — but without the scandalous headlines.

A handful of moderate Republican lawmakers called for Pruitt to be ousted early on, but congressional leaders supportive of his deregulatory agenda prevented the hot water Pruitt was in from increasing beyond a gentle simmer. And despite White House staffers’ annoyance at his public stumbles, Pruitt reportedly enjoyed a chummy relationship with the president himself. The pair reportedly even gabbed on the phone regularly.

That changed quickly after emails and testimony from close aides showed that Pruitt on multiple occasions had used EPA resources and personnel to carry out errands and search for a job for his wife, Marlyn.

With scrutiny intensifying, half a dozen aides close to Pruitt departed EPA within a few weeks of each other, including his top policy adviser, his chief of security and a longtime friend from Oklahoma whom Pruitt placed in charge of the Superfund program.

Emails released following lawsuits and aides’ testimony to House investigators revealed that Pruitt had used EPA staff and security detail to search for housing, to try to purchase a Trump hotel mattress and to drive him around Washington in search of his favorite skin lotion — potential violations of laws prohibiting tasking federal workers with personal matters. Further still, it was shown that Pruitt had used his aides to seek employment opportunities for his wife, including from major GOP donors — raising questions about whether Pruitt had used his official position to benefit his family.

For Pruitt’s critics, these revelations moved beyond other Pruitt actions that were questionable but politically survivable.

The president did not immediately name a nominee to serve as a permanent successor, as he did for similar high-profile departures in recent months, and Senate Republicans have questioned whether another administrator could even be confirmed this year given the Senate’s tight schedule and the GOP’s razor-thin majority.

That leaves Pruitt’s deputy, Wheeler, in charge at EPA in an acting capacity for the foreseeable future.

Wheeler, like Pruitt, is expected to continue Trump's deregulatory agenda, rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations like the Clean Power Plan or the Waters of the U.S. rule. And the White House is likely to continue its quest to slash EPA’s budget drastically, although Congress has twice rejected such cuts and some Republicans have questioned whether the agency can go any lower.

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