Trump's support for embattled Pruitt could be wavering

President Donald Trump's support for Scott Pruitt may be wavering as White House aides renew a push to convince the P...

Posted: May 10, 2018 2:27 PM
Updated: May 10, 2018 2:27 PM

President Donald Trump's support for Scott Pruitt may be wavering as White House aides renew a push to convince the President he should fire his embattled EPA chief, several sources told CNN.

White House officials saw a fresh opening to sway Trump against Pruitt late last week after the Atlantic published a report accusing a Pruitt aide of trying to spread negative stories about a fellow Cabinet member, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The report struck a chord with the President, who was bothered by the development and has grown more open to his aides' arguments that Pruitt must go, a White House aide and source close to the White House said.

Despite nearly a dozen investigations into Pruitt's conduct, Trump has resisted calls to fire Pruitt, worried about disruptions to his deregulatory agenda and concerned that it would be difficult to confirm a successor. White House aides have assured the President the agency's work can continue unabated if the EPA's recently-confirmed deputy administrator, Andrew Wheeler, takes over.

"The ground has absolutely shifted," said a source close to the White House, who said the President is becoming convinced that Pruitt is doing more harm than good in his position.

But it was the allegation that Pruitt's team was taking aim at Zinke in an effort to distract from the EPA administrator's ethical troubles that has especially troubled the President and his aides, who were angry after catching wind of the reported plot, one White House source said.

'A line was crossed'

"A line was crossed," said the source, who said Trump was made aware of the story after it broke on Friday, said.

Representatives for the White House and EPA didn't respond to a request for comment.

A senior administration official said White House aides looked into the possibility of firing Michael Abboud, the Pruitt aide accused of shopping the stories, after the report of his behavior first surfaced. But aides in the personnel office discovered Abboud was outside of the White House's jurisdiction and could only be removed by Pruitt, the senior administration official said.

Abboud did not respond to a request for comment.

Losing support

For weeks, White House chief of staff John Kelly and other senior White House aides have urged Pruitt's firing. But in a significant development, two sources said Pruitt is also losing the support of one of his most loyal West Wing defenders, the White House legislative director Marc Short.

"I think he's finding it tougher and tougher to defend all these allegations," one White House official said.

Short, who is tasked with shepherding nominees on Capitol Hill, denied that he is wavering on Pruitt, telling CNN: "I remain supportive of Scott."

What's clear is that White House aides are leading a new push to convince the President to abandon his EPA administrator.

Another White House official noted efforts to turn Trump against his EPA administrator have persisted for weeks as allegations against Pruitt have piled up and spawned multiple investigations into his conduct.

"The push isn't new. Some people here wanted him out a month ago," the aide said. "I think they see an opportunity with the Atlantic piece to make their case."

"I think there's a push to force (Trump's) hand," the White House aide added.

Until recently, discussions with Trump about firing Pruitt gained little traction, in part because Trump continues to appreciate the deregulatory work his EPA administrator has performed.

Multiple White House officials are pointing to their struggle to shepherd a series of candidates through the confirmation process as the main thing keeping Pruitt in his job.

Growing list of scandals

Pruitt faces a growing list of scandals that would easily sink a high ranking official in most administrations. Reports ranging from his lavish travel accommodations to conflicting explanations for why his aides received significant pay raises without White House approval have created a series of headaches for an administration beset by controversy.

Making matter worse: The trouble for Pruitt is piling up as the White House tries to recover from its failed nomination of Ronny Jackson to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Meanwhile, Trump's pick for CIA director, Gina Haspel, is facing a potentially tough battle in the Senate as she prepares for her Wednesday confirmation hearing.

In an ironic way, those challenges have helped Pruitt. A senior administration official noted that even Mike Pompeo, who was previously confirmed by the Senate to run the CIA, faced headwinds in his recent confirmation vote to become secretary of state. A new EPA chief, the official noted, could face even stronger resistance in a narrowly divided Senate.

Despite the seemingly shifting tides, no one would predict whether Pruitt's departure is imminent.

"No clue with Trump," said one source close to the White House. "It could happen today, next week, never," the source said.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 592709

Reported Deaths: 9340
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion818931301
Lake44495668
Allen32035543
Hamilton28533305
St. Joseph26847372
Elkhart24132341
Vanderburgh18759213
Tippecanoe17482122
Johnson14583285
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Grant5848110
Dubois546172
Boone536367
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Henry496164
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Cass473160
Noble462157
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Jackson416145
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Lawrence382075
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Gibson357856
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Washington178218
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Ohio4707
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 831066

Reported Deaths: 10281
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin97996705
Cuyahoga826131062
Hamilton61629439
Montgomery41873399
Summit33603729
Lucas30316597
Butler29859228
Stark24951413
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Mahoning16815336
Lake15491135
Clermont15235104
Delaware1392977
Licking12765132
Trumbull12445306
Fairfield1226080
Greene11682133
Medina11191165
Clark10648264
Wood10000154
Allen9579126
Portage8923106
Miami890573
Richland8848116
Marion7341113
Tuscarawas7162174
Columbiana7117124
Pickaway705750
Wayne6815165
Muskingum676342
Erie5943118
Hancock540490
Ross532787
Scioto523663
Geauga487755
Darke458589
Ashtabula440572
Lawrence436652
Union432828
Mercer425887
Sandusky424462
Auglaize415159
Seneca415155
Huron413638
Shelby411021
Jefferson404566
Belmont397840
Washington373140
Athens36549
Putnam365372
Madison341429
Knox337722
Ashland333838
Fulton327143
Defiance320178
Crawford315169
Preble312434
Brown298219
Logan293229
Ottawa283034
Clinton279643
Williams271166
Highland263618
Jackson258343
Guernsey244025
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Morrow22404
Perry222618
Holmes219462
Henry211947
Hardin205033
Coshocton198920
Van Wert198044
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Wyandot191449
Adams165815
Pike165217
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Monroe96129
Harrison8598
Morgan79628
Vinton67213
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