Trump says EPA administrator Pruitt chose to resign, 'Scott felt that he was a distraction'
EPA deputy administrator Andrew Wheeler to temporarily take over the agency.
After months of controversy and ethical questions, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has resigned from the agency, President Trump tweeted on Thursday.
Over the past several months, Pruitt has increasingly come under fire for multiple allegations of abusing his power – from spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on first-class travel to a sweetheart real estate deal tied to a lobbyist with EPA business and attempting to secure a private business deal for his wife – among numerous allegations. Sources tell ABC News Trump, who'd previously defended Pruitt's job performance, had finally reached his boiling point within the last few weeks.
Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he was speaking with Pruitt about resigning for a couple of days. Trump said there was "no final straw" and that he wasn't concerned about the allegations against Pruitt, contradicting previous statements from the White House, but said Pruitt was concerned he was a distraction to the administration.
"Scott is a terrific guy. And he came to me and he said I have such great confidence in the administration. I don’t want to be a distraction. And I think Scott felt that he was a distraction," Trump said.
"He’ll go on to great things and he’s going to have a wonderful life, I hope. But he felt that he did not want to be a distraction for an administration that he has a lot of faith in," he added.
On Tuesday, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said the president and White House were looking into "troublesome" reports about Pruitt. Though Trump has previously said he wasn't happy about all the reports about Pruitt's actions since taking over at the agency, he also tweeted that "within the agency Scott has done an outstanding job."
Pruitt did not acknowledge the ongoing investigations or allegations of ethical violations in his resignation letter but said the personal attacks against him have taken a toll on him and his family.
"It is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you in this role first because I count it a blessing to be serving you in any capacity, but also, because of the transformative work that is occurring. However, the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us," Pruitt wrote in the letter, the text of which was provided to ABC News.
The EPA administrator was also seen by reporters at the White House on Thursday at a 4th of July event for military families.
Though some conservatives considered Pruitt a successful cabinet secretary in his decisions to roll back regulations like the Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States rule, that fulfilled several of Donald Trump’s campaign promises, the growing list of scandals reached a breaking point in the last several months.
Within the last few months, multiple internal and congressional investigations were launched into reports that Pruitt retaliated against employees and whistleblowers who raised concerns about his spending decisions – a particular concern for watchdog groups and lawmakers because such actions could violate federal law.
A spokesman for the EPA inspector general's office, which has multiple ongoing investigations, said the office will not end investigations because an employee leaves the agency but the employee is no longer required to cooperate.
Lawmakers also expressed concerns about reports that Pruitt used EPA aides to set up meetings about getting his wife a job, which could violate laws that prohibit using a federal position for personal financial gain. Pruitt confirmed he had his staff reached out to the CEO of fast-food franchise Chik-fil-A to look into a possible location for his wife to take ownership of – the deal never happened.
Democrats have even asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into Pruitt’s actions. Some 170 lawmakers signed a resolution calling for Pruitt to resign. Others have called for him to be fired in recent months and even some Republicans have said that the scandals are too big a distraction for the president.
ABC News first reported that Pruitt lived in a Capitol Hill townhouse co-owned by the wife of a lobbyist with business interests before the EPA, for just $50 a night, far below market rate.
Republicans from Iowa, Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, have also spoken harshly against Pruitt’s for a proposal to change rules regarding ethanol and renewable fuels. Ernst said at one point that Pruitt was abusing his position and called him “as swampy as you can get,” referring to Trump’s campaign promise to “drain the swamp.”
Pruitt defended himself against many of the allegations, saying that people are creating controversy because they are against his and the administration’s agenda at EPA. The agency has also defended the increased cost of his travel from first-class flights and 24/7 security detail, citing increased threats against him compared to previous administrators.
Democrats and environmental groups quickly applauded Pruitt's resignation, saying that the scandals surrounding Pruitt finally became too much for him to stay in the job. In April, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., led a resolution where 170 members of Congress called for Pruitt to resign.
One government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington put out a one-word statement that only said "Good."
Some Republicans, including the chairman of the Senate committee with oversight of EPA, Sen. John Barrasso, said the distractions overshadowed the EPA and they look forward to confirming a new administrator.
"It has become increasingly challenging for the EPA to carry out its mission with the administrator under investigation. President Trump made the right decision to accept his resignation," Barrasso, R-Wyo., said in a statement. “I look forward to the confirmation of the next head of the EPA. In the meantime, I know Assistant Administrator Andrew Wheeler is well prepared to continue the progress already made under President Trump.”