When the Atlantic reported in early April that Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt went behind the White House’s back to give his favorite aides massive pay bumps, the embattled Cabinet secretary schlepped over to the normally friendly confines of Fox News to clear things up. The April 4 sitdown turned out to be an ambush, with the network’s chief national correspondent, Ed Henry, repeatedly pressing Pruitt on how he could be unaware of salary increases for two of his longtime staffers.
“I did not [authorize them],” Pruitt said. “My staff did. I found out about that yesterday and I changed it. I issued a statement yesterday walking back those pay raises that should not have been done.”
Pruitt was freelancing when he decided to give the interview, the Washington Post reported days later, with anonymous administration officials also contradicting the EPA director’s claims. Now, Pruitt himself is walking back those public statements. Or trying to sidestep them. Or attempting to dance around them. Choose your own slippery metaphor.
In a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Thursday, Pruitt admitted that he did authorize his chief of staff to dole out the pay raises. But he stopped there.
“I was not aware of the amount, nor was I aware of the bypassing, or the [Presidential Personnel Office] process not being respected,” Pruitt said .
Think of it like a game of telephone in which tens of thousands of dollars got lost in translation. Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko of New York cited the EPA administrator’s Fox News interview in his questioning. Watch his full, nearly-incomprehensible exchange with Pruitt:
For those keeping score at home: Pruitt lied during an interview about giving two of his close coworkers big raises over the White House’s objections. CNN’s Jeremy Diamond reports that Pruitt may have some ‘splaining to do when he leaves Capitol Hill:
To be fair to Pruitt here, there’s whole host of other things we could be focusing on. Take the $43,000 soundproof phone booth installed in his office; or the sweetheart deal he got on a Washington rental owned by an energy industry lobbyist; or the millions paid for 24/7 security and luxury flights. All his staff’s fault too, I’m sure.