WASHINGTON -- Two Democratic senators demanded a congressional inquiry Tuesday into the justification underpinning the round-the-clock security detail for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, citing new documents suggesting that level of security is not justified.
Writing to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., fellow panel members Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Thomas Carper, D-Del., refer to several internal EPA documents -- which they kept confidential "in an abundance of caution to protect any specific ongoing security efforts" -- that allude to the kind of threats that have not traditionally triggered 24/7 protection.
Those include messages threatening to leave scrapings of old paint at the administrator's office and one telling Pruitt "we are watching you" on the agency's climate-related policies.
In a Feb. 14 "Preliminary Intelligence Enterprise Threat Assessment Review" memo from EPA's Office of Homeland Security Intelligence Team, according to the senators' letter, agency officials used all caps and bold print as they concluded that the justification for the coverage outlined by Pruitt's protective security detail in an Oct. 17 memorandum "DOES NOT employ sound analysis or articulate relevant 'threat specific' information appropriate to draw any resource or level of threat conclusions regarding the protection posture for the Administrator."
Continuing with the use of bold and underline print, the memo states that "[u]sing all source intelligence resources, EPA Intelligence has not identified any specific credible direct threat to the EPA Administrator."
Pruitt's aides and members of EPA's Inspector General Office have repeatedly said Pruitt faces a higher level of threats than his immediate predecessors, which has prompted round-the-clock protection and his repeated use of first-class flights since shortly after he took office in February 2017. The salary and travel costs of his detail alone already have reached nearly $3 million, according to an EPA official.
The agency pushed back Tuesday.
"Scott Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him," spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement, noting that threat assessments are conducted by the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance using information provided by Pruitt's personal security detail, EPA's Office of Homeland Security and its inspector general. "Americans should all agree that members of the President's cabinet should be kept safe from these violent threats."
Also Tuesday, according to two current agency employees, a career official who had been involved in some of the assessment cited in the senators' letter to Barrasso was removed from his post. Mario Caraballo, a military veteran who served as deputy associate administrator at the EPA's Office of Homeland Security, was placed on leave. It was unclear if the move, first reported by Politico, was triggered by the release of information related to Pruitt's security.
Asked about Caraballo's dismissal, EPA suggested the timing was a coincidence.
"I am not aware of any connection between the personnel matter and the document mentioned in media reports," said Donna Vizian, the principal deputy assistant administrator for administration, according to a statement released by Pruitt's staff.
Barrasso, for his part, said Tuesday that he had no intention of holding a hearing on the assessment issue and instead criticized Carper and Whitehouse for quoting "law enforcement sensitive information" that "should not be further disseminated" without the approval of officials at the Secret Service or the EPA's inspector general.
While the chairman made it clear he will not be investigating Pruitt in the near future, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is pressing ahead.
On Tuesday, former EPA deputy chief of staff for operations Kevin Chmielewski -- who objected to Pruitt's travel spending as well as other aspects of his management -- met with a group of panel investigators, according to individuals who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the committee's internal deliberations.
Chmielewski, who is on administrative leave without pay, is one of several EPA officials who departed or were reassigned after raising concerns about how Pruitt and his deputies operated.
The House oversight committee is also investigating the administrator's bargain-priced rental of a $50-a-night Capitol Hill condo tied to a fossil fuels lobbyist.
A nationwide search of state and federal court records by The Associated Press found no case where anyone has been arrested or charged with making violent threats against Pruitt.
Information for this article was contributed by Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis of The Washington Post and by Michael Biesecker of The Associated Press.
A Section on 04/11/2018
Print Headline: Probe Pruitt security, senators say