July 5 (UPI) — President Donald Trump on Thursday said he accepted the resignation of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt in the wake of a number of investigations into the Cabinet member’s spending habits.
The president offered praise for Pruitt, the only EPA head to serve in the Trump administration.
“Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this,” Trump said on Twitter making the announcement.
Recently confirmed Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler will take over as acting administrator.
“I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!” Trump said.
Pruitt’s departure comes amid growing scrutiny over the EPA’s spending under his leadership. In April, the EPA inspector general opened a review into allegations of ethical missteps, including a lease Pruitt signed to rent a room on Capitol Hill for $50 a night.
The inspector general said it also would look into whether employees who attempted to raise red flags about Pruitt’s spending were sidelined or demoted.
Earlier in April, the independent Government Accountability Office said Pruitt’s agency broke the law when it spent $43,000 on a soundproof phone booth without first notifying Congress. The watchdog said the booth qualifies as a furnishing. Under federal law, the EPA is required to notify Senate and House appropriations committees in advance of purchasing any furnishing that costs taxpayers more than $5,000.
Pruitt also is accused of excessive spending on travel, staying at expensive hotels while traveling — even if they exceeded allowable federal spending limits — and telling staff to book flights on Delta Air Lines so he could accrue frequent flier mileage.
After weeks of reports about those alleged unethical dealings, Pruitt came under fire from lawmakers in April while testifying on Capitol Hill.
In opening remarks at one of the hearings, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said Pruitt brought secrecy, conflicts of interest and scandal to the EPA.
“In any other administration, Republican or Democrat, you would be long gone by now,” Pallone told Pruitt, saying the EPA chief has caused “scandal after scandal.”
“When confronted about them, you repeatedly failed to take responsibility for your actions,” the Democrat added. “Instead, you’ve blamed your staff, your security detail, your critics — pretty much anyone but yourself.”
Pruitt refuted the criticisms after first touting efforts made at the EPA during his time in the Trump administration.
“Facts are facts, fiction is fiction and a lie doesn’t become true just because it appears on the front page of the newspaper,” Pruitt said. “Much of what has been targeted at me or my team has been half-truths or stories that have been so twisted they do not resemble reality.”
Trump told reporters on board Air Force One on Thursday there was “no final straw” that led to the resignation, and said the decision was Pruitt’s.
“He’ll go on to great things and he’s going to have a wonderful life, I hope,” Trump said en route to Montana. “But he felt that he did not want to be a distraction for an administration that he has a lot of faith in.”
Susan McFarland contributed to this report.