President Trump Friday defended his Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, whom he said was doing "a great job" despite being "under siege."
“Do you believe that the Fake News Media is pushing hard on a story that I am going to replace A.G. Jeff Sessions with EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, who is doing a great job but is TOTALLY under siege? Do people really believe this stuff? So much of the media is dishonest and corrupt!” Trump tweeted in late morning.
The president’s tweet comes amid scrutiny of his EPA chief for taking a $50 a day condo rental from the wife of a lobbyist, and allegedly approving a controversial pay raise for two of his staff members.
In March, Pruitt approached the White House and asked for substantial pay raises for two of his closest aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millian Hupp. Pruitt asked to bump Greenwalt’s salary to $164,200 from $107,435, and Hupp’s to $114,590 from $86,460. Since the employees were political appointees, the White House needed to sign off on it, but refused.
According to a report in The Atlantic, an employee at the EPA used a little-known provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act to skirt the White House’s decision and green light the salary increases.
Pruitt, though, told Fox News Wednesday that he just “found out about it” this week and “changed it.”
“I found out about this yesterday and I corrected the action and we are in the process of finding out how it took place and correcting it,” Pruitt said in an exclusive sit-down interview with Fox News.
Pruitt also has come under fire for leasing a Capitol Hill condo that was tied to a prominent fossil-fuels lobbyist for $50 a night. An EPA ethics official said the condo deal didn’t violate federal ethics rules. The embattled EPA chief also has been questioned about his frequent first-class travel—spending between $2,000 and $2,600 on first class flights back to his home state of Oklahoma.
Trump denied reports of a potential move of Pruitt from the EPA to the Justice Department aboard Air Force One on Thursday, though he did not comment on Sessions’ safety in his post.
“Scott’s doing a great job where he is,” Trump said in a press gaggle.
The attorney general has been in the president’s political crosshairs for months –most recently in February, when Trump blasted Sessions for tapping an “Obama guy” to investigate allegations of government surveillance abuse — referring to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s investigation.
That, though, was hardly the first time Trump went after Sessions, who was among one of the president’s earliest supporters in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump has slammed Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, and consistently blasts the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation for the integrity of agency decisions regarding surveillance of Americans, the Hillary Clinton email investigation, and the investigation into Russian meddling and potential collusion with Trump campaign associates in the 2016 presidential election.
The White House did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment on whether the president is considering replacing Sessions to lead the Justice Department.
Fox News’ Barnini Chakraborty and Ed Henry contributed to this report.