Political fallout from Scott Pruitt's resignation

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," July 5, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ACNHOR: Let's bring in our panel now: Guy Benson political editor at townhall.com; Karen Tumulty opinion writer for The Washington Post; and Molly Hemingway senior editor for The Federalist.

Ok, Guy -- let's start with Scott Pruitt. There were a long list of things he was being investigated for. It came to a head and he offered his resignation.

GUY BENSON, TOWNHALL.COM: Yes. First, I'm just struck. Usually this week, July Fourth week is a very sleepy one in D.C. And here we have a cabinet secretary resigning, a Supreme Court vacancy, and a Secretary of State on his way to North Korea.

But look at that scrolling graphic we have right there -- death by a thousand cuts was the phrase we heard from John Roberts a moment ago. And I think that is exactly right -- when you have 14 separate ethics investigations into one cabinet secretary that becomes a problem.

And look, I've been sympathetic to some of the arguments that we've heard from (AUDIO GAP) defending Scott Pruitt on a number of these allegations that you've just read. I don't think that they are all as serious as they may seem. But once you get to that many different things, I think it starts to become a problem particularly recently when we've seen serious accusations about secret calendars and meetings, altering the official public record.

This became at the very least a very significant distraction for the boss, which is the ultimate no now in D.C.

BAIER: Donald Trump Jr. introducing his father there in Montana. Molly -- you have a little bit different take about how this all stretched out.

MOLLY HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: Yes. There's no question that Scott Pruitt showed some bad judgment. But many of these things -- you see the scrolling list of items, a lot of them are overblown. Some of these things that he was accused of are outright false, like a couple of weeks ago, the New York Times had to issue a correction on its story alleging wrongdoing with his daughter's admission to UVA Law School. They got something very fundamentally wrong with that story.

So the question -- or the issue is not that Scott Pruitt showed bad judgment. That's not why there was this massively funded, orchestrated campaign called Boot Pruitt. It's because he was effective in his job as EPA administrator and because he was articulating and advancing an agenda very different than what you had seen from previous administrators. And so --

BAIER: Let me just interrupt. I mean you have to concede that seeing an EPA administrator reach out to somebody to try to get his wife a Chick-Fil- A franchise is not an every day thing. And there were a couple of other things that really stuck out even for Republicans up on the Hill who lost confidence.

HEMINGWAY: Right. As I said, he had shown some bad judgment but he wasn't under attack for the entirety of this administration because he showed bad judgment. The campaign that was, you know, funded by so many of these environmental groups was about going over every single decision he made, every single casual comment he made with a fine tooth comb so they could oust him.

And while under a normal Republican administration you might see something like this result in a resignation immediately, it took many months. But I think now you have a blueprint that works for people on the left. And you saw this, the proof of this is that the acting administrator is the deputy -- Wheeler. And immediately you saw people, environmental groups saying he's just as bad as Pruitt and we're just going to continue this effort to oust him as well.

BAIER: Well, that's an interesting point -- Karen. Because it is similar in that Wheeler will not change the dynamic probably on policy when it comes to EPA, right?

KAREN TUMULTY, THE WASHINGTON POST: Exactly. And you know, guy said death by a thousand cuts. I would call it suicide by a thousand cuts.

This is a guy -- all of this was self-inflicted. The guy was a grifter. And he was continuing to just rack up one embarrassment after another for a President who had come to town promising to change the way things got done in Washington -- to drain the swamp. And he became a, you know, symbol of the swamp.

HEMINGWAY: I think actually, though, what he really had was a lot of opposition even within the administration. He was one of these people who pushed very hard to get out of the Paris Climate Accord. And that met with opposition even --

TUMULTY: That was the President -- that was the President's decision. He did not push the President to get there. He was following the President.

And again, all of these things -- nobody made him go look for a $200,000 job for his wife. Nobody made him demand first -- and $3,000 for tactical pants -- whatever those are.

HEMINGWAY: But actually this is another issue. He was under extreme threat from people who had been threatening his physical safety; we're in an environment where Republicans have been shot at. So he got in trouble for all of this spending money on security but nobody actually deals with the fact that he and his family were under threat from some radicals who had --

BAIER: -- which was the increase in security. I mean that was a factor -- he was getting the most -- I talked to people in the Secret Service -- the most threats out of anybody inside the administration.

TUMULTY: But again, asking for things like jobs for his wife, making people go -- use government employees to go do things like look for a secondhand mattress from a Trump Hotel or a certain kind of moisturizer from the Ritz Carlton. Those sound like small things and they are except that they speak to a mindset of sort of misuse of both power and government resources.

BENSON: I just think when you are --

BAIER: Let me just interrupt. That's Senator Steve Danes in the intro crew. And when the President arrives, we're going to take that live.

BENSON: No worries. I just think, Molly -- to your point, when you are a target of the left, which he clearly is; when you are a lightning rod because of the agenda and I think, I agree he was very effective -- that was part of the reason why the left was so forceful in their opposition to him -- you don't want to give your opponents ammunition to use against you which he did repeatedly.

So you are right to talk about the coordinated effort against him but some of this falls on him and his own responsibility for his own conduct and actions.

BAIER: But let me talk to the premise of Molly's other point, which is what has been done at the EPA. Like on a strictly marking-down the policy objectives. They got a lot done.

BENSON: They did. And I think perhaps the writing was on the wall about today's outcome about a month ago. On June 8 the President was asked about Scott Pruitt's performance. And he said that Pruitt had done an incredible job quote, "inside the walls of the EPA". And then went on to say as to the conduct, he said he wasn't blameless and then the famous, "we'll see what happens", which is sometimes ominous.

But inside the walls -- that was I think Trump making a distinction saying when it comes to advancing my agenda of deregulation, Pruitt is hitting the target. He's hitting the mark time and time again. It was the outside stuff fueled by that that got him.

HEMINGWAY: And he couldn't have done it without Wheeler who is now the acting administrator who is a former career official at EPA. He also worked in the Senate. He also has been on the other side of things as an energy lobbyist.

So if people like what they saw Pruitt doing at the EPA, think they can expect it will continue under Wheeler without some of the unwanted attention that Pruitt gave.

BAIER: All right. I want to quickly talk about the Supreme Court potential nominees before we see the President here as the intro continues.

Karen -- the President on Air Force One said he got it down to four, maybe three -- well, maybe two. And he's going to make the decision Sunday and the announcement on Monday.

TUMULTY: And by Saturday it could be -- this is Donald Trump we're talking about here. By Saturday it could be back up to six. I think that --

BAIER: Or he could announce it tonight at the rally. It's possible. I mean let's not cut that out.

(CROSSTALK)

TUMLUTY: But I think that, you know, the two more -- most interesting choices -- I think the dichotomy here is whether he goes with a Brett Kavanaugh, who would be kind of the closest thing to being able to sort of bring in a consensus; or whether he goes with Amy Barrett, which would inflame the bases on both sides. And I think that that is in part going to be probably the President's calculation here.

BAIER: Explaining that to people about what can be done if Democrats are mobilizing against a nominee -- Guy. They really have to hustle to get the votes to prevent somebody from getting through this process. I mean they really have to dig in either in the hearing process or from the public out to move those votes if Republicans hold the line.

BENSON: Right. And that new dynamic comes courtesy of Harry Reid and the nuclear option of 2013 that was then applied to the Gorsuch situation. I do wonder if Chuck Schumer regrets going with the filibuster option against Neil Gorsuch who was described by many people as bullet proof. Maybe he could have saved that tactic for this round but he didn't so here we are.

And to Karen's point, I think we've heard the name Kavanaugh a lot. We've also heard a lot of attacks on Amy Barrett, some of which I think are actually quite bigoted and odious.

There's a chance that the President might want to split the baby here and a lot the buzz, today in particular, after this whole process of interviews that the President conducted is Raymond Kethledge from the Sixth Circuit who does not have the D.C. baggage of Kavanaugh.

I was talking to one source who's plugged in to this, he doesn't have, going all the way back to the bush administration, even stretching back to Ken Starr in Kavanaugh's CV. He has much more experience than Amy Barrett. He's been on that Sixth Circuit for ten years now.

And he could be sort of on that glide path to confirmation if he's the pick. And again, the rumor, the buzz, is that as of now, today -- and this can change -- the President really hit it off with Kethledge and he maybe the new frontrunner even being a dark horse a day or two ago.

BAIER: And as we know, Molly -- a lot of it is personal with the President and how he relates to somebody, both Kavanaugh and Kethledge clerked for Anthony Kennedy which is also interesting in how they line up.

HEMINGWAY: Right. And Kavanaugh has gotten so much buzz because he's a D.C. creature and he's advanced politically, you know, in the D.C. environment. It's not fault but he has been -- he's been successful in the D.C. area.

BAIER: No. He's been here.

HEMINGWAY: But in this environment I think people sometimes are looking for someone who's more of an outsider. And there's a little bit of concern about some of Kavanaugh's decisions.

Kethledge does seem to be someone who's very much liked because of the Kennedy issue. He clerked for Kennedy. He's also very (INAUDIBLE) with Gorsuch. He was a big crowd pleaser.

And when look at the fundamental issue of the moment, this idea about whether we will be constitutionalists who really understand the limits of the constitution and threats that a bureaucracy that is unaccountable can pose to limited government, Kethledge is really good on that issue. And he has done a lot of jurisprudence. He's thought deeply about.

And it really is one of these things that more and more cases, we're seeing deal with administrative state.

BAIER: Karen -- you talked about mobilizing the bases. There's a ton of talk about Roe v Wade. There's obviously a host of issues that would be asked about and probed. But is that really what's going to stir both bases?

TUMULTY: I think that the larger issue -- Roe v Wade being sort of a proxy for abortion rights in general -- the chances of Roe v Wade just flat out being overturned are probably pretty small. It's hard to imagine that John Roberts would want to do that on a five-four vote. But what you do have --

BAIER: By the way, let me interrupt. He could be now, the new swing --

TUMULTY: That's true.

BAIER: -- the new Anthony Kennedy, the new swing vote.

TUMULTY: But what you do have are a lot of issues that are bubbling up from the states that could challenge sort of the underpinnings of both Roe v Wade in the 1992 decision, the Casey decision on things like is viability of the fetus still the new standard or you know, what exactly is an undue burden on the right to an abortion.

And those are the things that are going to be tested by a lot of cases that are going to be coming to the Supreme Court from the states.

BAIER: Although technically, Roe v Wade is not written the best -- it probably is not going to be number one target.

HEMINGWAY: Right. And Casey did kind (AUDIO GAP) subsequent decision that kind of helped save Roe because it was such a poorly written and poorly reasoned decision.

But this is a proxy for just general approach (AUDIO) constitutional governance. There's this perspective among progressives that the constitution is a changing document that should change as people's mores change.

And then there's this other attitude that the constitution is something that can persist because human nature stays the same. We need a restrained and limited government because people will always try to use government to lord over other people.

So it's a proxy for this general idea. Do we want a progressive activist court that redefines morality and redefine issues or do we want a court that understands that the constitution exists to preserve liberty.

TUMULTY: That's one (ph) issue. But the third decision is stare decisis - - court precedent and how much the court respects that. And that's where Amy Barrett becomes particularly controversial because in her writings, she has referred to -- a stare decisis court precedent as being sort of soft and flexible.

HEMINGWAY: We've heard that. But I think every single justice would say - -

(CROSSTALK)

HEMINGWAY: -- every single justice would say that you don't be a slave to precedent because there have been very bad decisions that have been argued by -- or have been decided by the court (AUDIO GAP).

BAIER: We're getting into the weeds. We're fighting the hearing already.

I want to turn -- since this is the longest introduction I've ever seen by Donald Trump, Jr. -- I want to turn to the other big headline here in D.C. and that is about Congressman Jim Jordan and the allegations out of Ohio State.

Take a quick listen to the sound bite.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE DISABATO, FORMER OHIO STATE WRESTLER: I know Jim knew about the -- what I call the deviant sexual atmosphere that we were exposed to --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: How do you know? How do you know?

DISABATO: We all had conversations. There was a lot of banter about, you know, Doc being a groper.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: I mean Mike wrestled for us and was, you know, was a friend. But something has changed. It's, you know, things he said are just not true. We knew no abuse, never heard of abuse. If we had, we would have reported it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: The allegations that he knew about the abuse, and obviously Jordan denies that. The President said on Air Force One, "I don't believe these allegations at all. Jim Jordan is one of the most outstanding people I've met since I've been in Washington. I believe him 100 percent. No question in my mind, I believe Jim Jordan 100 percent. He's an outstanding man."

Looks like we're getting ready for the President but quickly -- Guy.

BENSON: Well, it's obviously a very ugly issue and a very serious one. I don't know how the President or anyone else who wasn't there would have any special knowledge of what did or did not happen. I'm inclined to believe Jim Jordan until there's proof otherwise.

But, you know, again this is something that Jim Jordan and none of these other folks want to be talk about dating back many decades. But if there's validity to it, it's a problem.

BAIER: Karen.

TUMULTY: And what we've seen of these cases in other instances is if there's something there, it will come out.

BAIER: Molly.

HEMINGWAY: Yes. We absolutely need more information. It's hard to sit here and judge anything. It does come from Perkins Coy which is a law firm that was also behind the Fusion GPS allegations of Russia collusion.

Jim Jordan has been integral in fighting back against some of that -- some of those conspiracy theories surrounding Russia collusion. So the timing is interesting. I think we just need to learn a lot more.

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