POLITICS
05/08/2018 06:59 am ET

Passengers 'Lashing Out' At Scott Pruitt Justify First-Class Travel, New EPA Memo Says

Thousands of newly released EPA documents show the agency went to great lengths to shield the embattled administrator from encounters with the public.
Tom Williams via Getty Images

Newly released Environmental Protection Agency documents attempt to justify administrator Scott Pruitt’s frequent use of first-class and business-class travel with a claim that fellow passengers were “lashing out” at him.

The 87-word memo, dated May 1, 2017, was drafted by Pasquale Perrotta, who recently quit as head of Pruitt’s personal security detail. Perrotta wrote that he had noticed “lashing out from passengers which occurs while the Administrator is seated in coach with [his security detail] not easily accessible to him due to uncontrolled full flights.”

“We believe that the continued use of coach seats for the Administrator would endanger his life and therefore respectfully ask that he be placed in either business and or first class accommodations,” the memo concludes.

The justification reportedly allowed the scandal-scarred EPA head to fly in premium cabins, often costing taxpayers thousands more than seats in coach. One trip to Italy cost more than $7,000, The Washington Post notes. Another to Morocco cost more than $16,000.

The travel memo obtained by the Post was among thousands of EPA documents released to media outlets on Monday in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. Many show efforts by Pruitt’s staff to limit his encounters with the public. Pruitt is facing 11 investigations into his spending, management practices and ethical lapses. Pruitt’s travel preferences are under investigation by the EPA’s office of the inspector general.

The documents also reveal Pruitt’s practice of ducking interactions with average Americans, The New York Times reported on Monday, citing emails in a 10,000-document cache the EPA surrendered in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

EPA officials choreographed appearances so Pruitt wouldn’t face questions from the public, worked to limit social media postings during his trips to keep them private, and often arranged events in secret to avoid reporters.

“He didn’t want anybody to question anything,” Kevin Chmielewski, Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff for operations, told The Times. Chmielewski, who said he was pushed out of the agency for questioning Pruitt, said the EPA boss “just doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a public figure.”

The EPA has maintained that Pruitt has gotten far more threats than his predecessor, justifying his large security detail and extravagant travel arrangements. The Times notes that there were 33 threat investigations underway as of mid-March. Ten of those involved Pruitt himself, including a message on a “threatening postcard,” missives posted to Twitter and emails and phone calls.

BuzzFeed notes that three investigations have been launched this year involving Pruitt, but all have been closed due to lack of evidence that the administrator faced serious harm. One such incident, closed due to a lack of an “overt” threat, involved a Newsweek magazine cover that someone drew a mustache on and taped to an EPA elevator.

The release of Perrotta’s travel memo comes several months after the EPA said Pruitt was booked into premium cabins because members of the public yelled at him too much. The agency’s Office of Criminal Enforcement told Politico in February that the administrator was “approached at the airport numerous times, to the point of profanities being yelled at him.”

Pruitt has since said he would start flying coach.

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