How Environmentalists Secretly Took Down Scott Pruitt

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

In the weeks and months leading up to Scott Pruitt's resignation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) we learned many embarrassing things about him.

We learned that he enlisted agency personnel to find jobs for his wife and college admission for his daughter. We learned that he sought a used mattress from Trump's hotel for reasons that still aren't clear. We learned that he asked his personal security detail to pick up his laundry and chauffeur him around D.C. in search of fancy lotion from the Ritz-Carlton.

But how exactly did we learn about all these things? Who was the source of the reports we read in the Daily Beast and Washington Post among other publications?

Apparently, it was all the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group.

The way they tell the story, the Sierra Club wasn't actually looking for what they incidentally found. They filed a series of public records requests to keep tabs on Pruitt agenda, but they found so much more than that.

Documents from the Sierra Club’s Freedom of Information Act requests led to stories about the used mattress and the Chick-fil-A franchise—likely violations of ethics rules stating that government officials cannot have staffers run personal errands for them or use their offices for personal gain. The club’s FOIA requests were what revealed that Pruitt’s top aide, Millan Hupp, had signed off on the purchase of the customized silver fountain pens and journals embossed with Pruitt’s signature, along with the total price of the order: $1,670. Hupp resigned on June 6, five days after the piece was published.

“We did not expect to find thousands of dollars in fountain pens and Chick-fil-A,” said Elena Saxonhouse, the senior attorney for the Sierra Club who led the FOIA effort. Nor had the organization set out to refashion itself into a political opposition-research shop.

Trump's other cabinet officials and the new administrator of the EPA may not make it so easy to expose their corruption, but I thought this story was worth sharing to show that the good guys can still win using very simple means and tactics.

  • muselet

    Good on the Sierra Club.

    Somewhere in the Hereafter, John Muir is giggling fit to bust a gut.


  • ninjaf

    I think a better headline would be “Transparency in Government Reveals Pruitt’s Corruption”.

  • Aynwrong

    The Freedom of Information Act should in theory be a conservative’s favorite piece of legislation EVAAAHHH! What better way to limit the government’s power than by being allowed to keep tabs on it and it’s current administrators?

    Let’s see if this doesn’t test that love.

    • JMAshby

      In theory.

      But, under Trump, conservatives mostly use the Freedom of Information Act in attempts to undermine critics of the government.

      For example, Judicial Watch (Larry Klayman’s old outfit) used the FOIA to obtain the FISA warrant for Carter Page which was redacted and released over the weekend. The warrant doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, but conservatives have claimed it proves everything they’ve said is true (it doesn’t).

      Conservatives only care about power, not accountability.