The simplest way to think about the Donald Trump administration is to assume that each and every person within it is a grifter. Yes, there are some ideologues under Trump’s employ (“I suspect that some mischievous liberal at Disney assumes that Mulan’s story will cause a quiet change in the next generation’s attitude about women in combat and they just might be right,” once said the then-future vice president of the United States of America) and a handful of sunscreen-dribbled Gollums (“Am I the only one who is sick and tired of being told to pick up my trash when we have plenty of janitors who are paid to do it for us?” —Stephen Miller).
But mostly everyone just wants to fly in comfort, or turn a quick buck, or take some sick wedding photos, or get a primo view of the solar eclipse, or install some stately doors, or hawk business-casual finery, or kick back in great seats at Wimbledon, or gaze upon a magnificent mahogany table set with “hand carved scrolls and a fluted column.” Grifterdom is not so much an embarrassment in this administration as it is a way of life, and it’s something that is as likely to earn praise from the guy upstairs as prompt a departure.
And so let’s pour one for this grifter presidency’s greatest grifter of all: Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who resigned Thursday.
Pruitt, alias the Possum (he just “had that possum look,” a former college baseball teammate explained), took control of the EPA a month into Trump’s presidency. He presided over a number of dubious environmental accomplishments: He rescinded policies that limited sources of methane emissions and carbon pollution and initiated a relaxation of fuel-efficiency standards for automakers. A longtime climate-change denier, he helped steer Trump toward withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement in 2017. But Pruitt’s regulation- and earth-stripping initiatives were mostly middlingly successful, perhaps because he was distracted with what will go down as his most singular achievement of all. In Washington, Scott Pruitt didn’t just grift with the best of them; he deftly, unabashedly, and enthusiastically outgrifted each and every one of them.
A list of Pruitt’s grifts, in no particular order: He dropped $105,000 on first-class flights over his first year with the EPA plus myriad other travel expenses. He and his aides racked up $90,000 of expenses last June alone (all billed to taxpayers). He installed a $43,000 soundproof booth in his office for the purpose of “secure conversations” (more public money, naturally). He reached out to Chick-fil-A’s CEO in the hope of securing a franchise for his wife; when that fell through, he commanded aides to find her a job with a $200,000 salary. He demanded his staff drive to multiple Ritz-Carlton hotels in search of a lotion he liked and regularly sent them to buy him protein bars. He rented a below-market apartment from the wife of a lobbyist, who formally set about lobbying the EPA—and whose project was later approved. He leased an exorbitantly expensive SUV with bulletproof seat covers and spent $1,560 on a dozen fountain pens (publ—you get it). He spent $2,700 on “tactical pants” and “tactical polos.” He doled out troubling raises. He rigged his calendar to hide meetings with, among others, coal lobbyists and a shipping company CEO. He sent an aide to buy him a mattress from the Trump International Hotel.
“Scott Pruitt’s job in jeopardy amid expanding ethics issues,” The Washington Post remarked in April. “I don’t mean to denigrate Mr. Pruitt,” Republican Senator John Neely Kennedy said on CBS’s Face the Nation that month, “but doggone it … it needs to stop.” At the time, the president was unmoved. “I think he’s done a fantastic job,” Trump told reporters in April as the scandals piled up. “I think he’s done an incredible job. He’s been very courageous.”
My dude made it another three months, as astounding a streak of not being fired as most anyone has ever had. On Thursday, he cited the negativity he’s experienced in Washington as the impetus for his departure: “[T]he unrelenting attacks on me personally, [and] my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.” Tough times for a guy who just wanted a short commute and tickets to the Rose Bowl.
But all good things (for Scott Pruitt, anyway) must come to an end, and so here we are: We won’t have Pruitt or his pens to kick around anymore. Or, wait—we get to keep the pens, right? Property of the taxpayers? No? Hello? Can you hear me?