Scott Pruitt, on Capitol Hill, deflects blame for ethical failures

While the Democrats, who requested his resignation, tried to force Mr. Pruitt to accept guilt for a variety of ethical errors, he denied knowledge or responsibility for the actions in question. The Republicans, after briefly scolding Mr. Pruitt in his opening remarks, asked friendly questions that seemed calculated to allow him to talk about his political proposals.

As reports about Mr. Pruitt have continued to rise, some White House staff members have urged Mr. Trump to fire the chief EPA. Some Republican leaders have asked for his resignation, and many in Mr. Pruitt's own party have called for his actions to be investigated. But badysts who saw his performance on Thursday said they did well.

Representative Ken Calvert, a Republican from California and chairman of the appropriation subcommittee where Mr. Pruitt testified in the afternoon, called the manager's appearance "very professional."


Mr. Pruitt in the Subcommittee on Appropriations of the Chamber in the Interior and E.P.A., his second appearance before the members of the Chamber on Thursday.

Pete Marovich for The New York Times

When asked if Mr. Pruitt should resign, he said "No".

In the end, of course, the only opinion on Mr. Pruitt's fate is that of the president.

I think his effort will be well received by the president, "said Maisano," He has more explanations to do, but it was a good effort to repair the barriers. "There were no lethal blows.

Mr. Pruitt is now the subject of 10 federal investigations, which include questions about the illegal purchase of his office from a secure phone booth, his condo rental contract with the wife of an energy lobbyist and allegations that he degraded or marginalized E.P.A. employees who questioned their actions.

The Committee Democrats questioned him sharply about the reports of his ethical failures and pressured Mr. Pruitt on his setback of environmental standards, in particular, a new policy, proposed this week, that would limit the EPA ". s use of scientific research in the development of new health and environmental standards. Scientists have deplored the proposed rule, saying that it would significantly limit the agency's use of rigorous science.

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"Administrator Pruitt has brought secrets, conflicts of interest and scandal to the EPA," said Representative Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the highest ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where Mr. Pruitt testified on Thursday morning. "You are not fit to hold public office and you do not deserve public trust," he said. "Any indication we have is that they should really resign."

Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon and chairman of the House Energy Committee, criticized slightly before praising Pruitt for his efforts to push back environmental regulations. "I am concerned that the good progress that is being made on the political front is being undermined by the denunciations of its management of the agency and the use of its resources," he said. "These problems are too persistent to ignore."

The conservative legislators of the fossil fuel producing states, who for a long time pushed for the elimination of E.P.A. regulations, he avoided even mild criticism of Mr. Pruitt, attributing the scrutiny of his actions to a political witch hunt.

Rep. David B. McKinley, Republican of West Virginia, told Mr. Pruitt sympathetically that the attacks against him "echo McCarthyism."

In many ways, the last 14 months of holding the Mr. Pruitt have been building up to this moment.

As Attorney General of Oklahoma, he made a name aggressively fighting against the agency he now runs. Mr. Pruitt's confirmation was fiercely opposed by the Democrats, environmentalists and even E.P.A. employees. Since baduming command of the agency, Mr. Pruitt has worked to dispossess the E.P.A. of financing, reduce their personnel and curb their ability to develop new regulations on fossil fuel pollution.


Scott Pruitt's behavior at the Federal Research Center

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency faces nearly a dozen federal investigations into his practices. We break down the accusations by category.

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No E.P.A. Director in the story has reached the level of notoriety of Mr. Pruitt. Since the agency was formed, its administrators have been second-tier Washington figures. But Mr. Pruitt's antagonism towards climate science has made him a prominent and divisive figure at the national level.

Critics said that more than the ethical and expense problems, the actual damage to the E.P.A. it has been Mr. Pruitt's systematic weakening of the agency's ability to protect the environment and public health. While Mr. Pruitt's performance at Thursday's hearings can make or break his future within the Trump administration, many said his legacy was already established.

"It has been a flagrant and shameless series of calculated decisions to dismantle the nation's most successful national company," William K. Reilly, who led the EPA "under the first President George Bush, said of Mr. Pruitt's leadership. "It's really a national tragedy," he said.

At Thursday morning's hearing, Representative Joe Barton of Texas, who has long denied the overwhelming evidence of human effects on climate change, offered his sympathy. "Mr. Pruitt, you're not the first victim of Washington politics, "he said.

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Unsuccessful Democrats sought to identify Mr. Pruitt on his expenses and force him to accept the guilt of some of the actions that are now under investigation.

Rep. Tony Cárdenas, a California Democrat, asked about the soundproofing of Mr. Pruitt's booth, installed in his EPA office at a cost of $ 43,000. The Government Accountability Office has ruled that the expense violated the law.

"I had no knowledge of the approval of the $ 43,000," Mr. Pruitt told him, "and if I had known, congressman, I would not have approved it."

Mr. Cárdenas responded that "if someone spent $ 43,000 in my office, I would know."

Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, asked questions about Mr. Pruitt's involvement in real estate in Oklahoma that has been reported in The New York Times, referring to the buyer of his house as a "fictitious company" "


Protesters interrupted Mr. Pruitt's testimony during the morning's hearing.

Pete Marovich for The New York Times

"It's not a ghost company," he said quickly, adding that such financial structures were commonly used to buy real estate in Oklahoma.

He then asked Mr. Pruitt if he had paid taxes on the income he received. He said that the problem had been handed over to an accountant.

"I'm not doing this to bother you, I'm doing this as an elected official," Ms. DeGette said as she finished her questions. "Everything we do must conform to the highest ethical standards"

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Representative Paul Tonko, the ranking Democrat in the House Energy subcommittee on the Environment, pressed Mr. Pruitt on his claims that he did not know that the E.P.A. he had used an obscure legal provision to grant strong increases to the named politicians, eluding the approval of the White House. Mr. Pruitt said the decision was made by his chief of staff, Ryan Jackson.

"Did you authorize Mr. Jackson to sign these documents for you?" Mr. Tonko asked.

"I was unaware of the amount and was not aware of the detour that was happening," Mr. Pruitt replied.

Even some Republicans criticized Mr. Pruitt for repeatedly blaming his staff.

"If you say give me a phone booth, and your staff does, you should say it's my fault," said Rep. John Shimkus, Illinois Republican, chairman of the House Energy subcommittee, speaking with reporters after the morning audience. "It's never good to blame your staff, or at least do it behind closed doors."

And Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, a California Democrat, used her turn to question the defendant to try to get Mr. Pruitt to accept his guilt. "You have a solid record of violating ethics standards from the state level to the federal government," he told Pruitt. "I think it's a shame." And then he asked: "Do you have any remorse? Yes or no?"

Mr. Pruitt replied, "I think there are changes that I already made, I made a first clbad change to a coach trip." Ms. Eshoo returned to her call for a yes or no answer, and asked Mr. Pruitt if he would reimburse the government. He sent a long answer, but she interrupted him.

"With all due respect, I can be chosen, but I'm not stupid," he said. "This is not the day of the 'evasion'."

Correction: April 26, 2018

An earlier version of this story gave the wrong residence status for Representative John Shimkus. He represents Illinois, not Pennsylvania.

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