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Just Because EPA's Scott Pruitt Is Paranoid Doesn't Mean We're Not Out To Get Him
They're trying to take his Magic Bag.
[Update: New development since this story went up; see end of post] EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is a man who's made a lot of political enemies, which is really surprising since all he wants to do is convert the agency from a body that protects the environment into a rubber stamp for polluters' whims. But Pruitt is approaching his job with a Nixonian devotion to neutralizing the many dark entities he's sure are trying to take him down. The Hill reports that the EPA paid a security contractor to "sweep for covert/illegal surveillance devices" back in March, because obviously Pruitt's enemies are out to plant bugs in his office.
The EPA source who provided the documents on the condition of anonymity said the sweep, which came weeks after Pruitt’s arrival at the agency, did not uncover any bugs.
At least Pruitt's efforts to destroy the electronic kind of bugs didn't involve approving a pesticide that Barack Obama's EPA considered too toxic to humans. Not a single migrant farmer was poisoned this time out, unlike some 50 unlucky farm workers who got sick after exposure to a previously banned chemical that the Pruitt wrecking crew allowed to be sold.
Pruitt is obsessed with security, and is the first EPA administrator to have his very own 24/7 security detail -- a few dozen EPA law-enforcement agents who were tasked with keeping Pruitt safe at all times, which meant taking them off the job of actually policing environmental hazards, but it's not like they were going to be sent out on any crackdowns on polluters anyway. Pruitt also directed the construction of a secure communications Cone of Silence in his office, to the tune of $25,000 (cheap!), even though EPA headquarters already had a "secure compartmentalized information facility" (SCIF, as you spy novel fans already knew) on site. It's on another floor, and you never know when Pruitt might need to teleconference with a coal CEO -- we hear that instead of just saying "Hello," he answers those calls, "What is thy bidding?"
An EPA spokesdrone, Jahan Wilcox, insisted that Pruitt was only getting the same kind of security that other administrators have, telling the Hill, "Administrator Pruitt has received an unprecedented amount of threats against him and security decisions are made by EPA’s Protective Service Detail" and claiming that Obama's EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, had also had the office swept for listening devices. But a source who worked under Jackson told the Hill she'd never requested such a sweep, although it was possible that one was done as standard protocol when Jackson got the job.
Beyond the search for bugs and the personal SCIF and the security detail AND the reports that Pruitt asks EPA employees to leave their cell phones behind when he meets with them, we also learned this week that a contractor who works with the EPA on media relations has been investigating EPA employees who might not be sufficiently loyal to the Trump-Pruitt agenda. In a pair of jaw-dropping reports published Friday and Sunday, the Failing New York Times looks at the extracurricular activities of Allan Blutstein, a VP of Definers Public Affairs, which contracts with EPA to monitor the agency's press coverage. As it happens, Blutstein is also the cofounder of a rightwing political action committee, America Rising, and he's made a personal project of filing FOIA requests targeting EPA employees who've spoken out with concerns about the EPA's reversal of direction.
Mind you, Blutstein says he isn't being paid by the EPA or Pruitt to keep tabs on those he thinks might be on Pruitt's Enemies List -- he's doing it all on his own time, just because he wants Pruitt to be safe:
Mr. Blutstein, in an interview, said he was taking aim at “resistance” figures in the federal government, adding that he hoped to discover whether they had done anything that might embarrass them or hurt their cause.
“I wondered if they were emailing critical things about the agency on government time and how frequently they were corresponding about this,” he said. “And did they do anything that would be useful for Republicans.”
See? He's just a patriot who wants to help. And golly, if EPA employees insist on saying they think America might be headed for an "environmental catastrophe" or protesting budget cuts at the agency, then they shouldn't be surprised if, a few days later, Blutstein files requests for all those employees' emails. As public employees, their communications are public records, so it's perfectly legal for anyone to treat the employees as if they were the subjects of opposition research in a political campaign -- and oppo research is Definers' main business. No big, though, since Blutstein's
harassmentmonitoring is just a hobby, not connected in any way to his work as a government contractor.
Oh, sure, one of the renegade EPA employees may have called Blutstein's actions "a witch hunt against E.P.A. employees who are only trying to protect human health and the environment," but all's fair in the Information Battlespace, isn't it? Government employees who don't follow the administration's priorities are, after all, members of the Deep State, and they need to be carefully watched.
Both NYT stories are outstanding, and you need to read them to see how Team Trump is working to silence civil servants who think differently from the Trump agenda. And yes, if this sounds surprisingly like Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke telling Park Service employees to knock it off with the tweets about climate change, it's definitely the same idea: permanent campaign mode, and now government employees are being treated like political opponents who must be defeated and, ideally, driven from office, civil service protections be damned. Remember, this is also the administration that installed political overseers in all cabinet agencies. America's going to be the greatest banana republic of them all.
UPDATE: All the publicity from those NYT stories has given Definers Public Affairs a case of cold feet, so it'scancelling its contract to provide press clippings and videos to the EPA. Definers president (oh, and also president of America Rising, which is totally a separate thing) Joe Pounder tweeted the following statement just a little while ago (right-click and "view image" to embiggen):
Looks like Allan Blutstein will be able to pursue his new hobby of privately monitoring -- as a good citizen -- EPA troublemakers without any bothersome business entanglements now.
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