Senators Press Pruitt on Failing – Again – to Tell the Truth about Emails
New documents show Pruitt did not disclose a third email account he used as OK Attorney General
Washington, DC – Today, Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee members Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) asked Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to explain why he failed to disclose a third email account he used as Oklahoma Attorney General. During Pruitt’s confirmation process, Senators asked Pruitt repeatedly to detail which email accounts he used to conduct state business—an issue related to his work on behalf of energy companies that came to light in reporting by the New York Times. After being forced to explain himself twice previously, Pruitt ultimately named two accounts in his answers to Senators. However, according to documents recently released in response to a November 2015 Oklahoma Open Records Act request and reported by the Washington Post, he failed to mention a third account that he used to correspond with senior staff and outside parties for years. Now, the Senators write, Pruitt must provide a third explanation to the Senate.
“The EPW Committee asked you to identify all email addresses you used as Attorney General when it was considering your nomination to be Administrator of the EPA,” the Senators write. “After providing an initial incorrect response, you corrected your answer. Then you had to correct your answer again with a second email address. Now it appears you will have to correct the record a third time. The Oklahoma Bar Association is already investigating whether your testimony to Congress involved “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” in violation of Oklahoma Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4. This latest omission is plainly relevant to that inquiry.”
Pruitt had previously failed to disclose use of a personal email account to conduct official business—an omission that ran contrary to his testimony before the EPW Committee and only came to light after the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office was compelled by court order to release documents responsive to an Open Records Act request.
Full text of the Senators’ letter is below. A PDF copy is available here.
June 15, 2017
The Honorable Scott Pruitt
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20460
Dear Administrator Pruitt:
We write today to express our serious concern that it appears you still have not provided the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee a full accounting of email addresses you used while Attorney General of Oklahoma. According to documents recently released by the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General, you used an additional business email address—a third, email@example.com—that you never disclosed to the Committee despite multiple requests and opportunities to do so. This is the second time that documents responsive to long-languishing Open Records Act (ORA) requests that you failed to process as Attorney General in your role as open records overseer have revealed that you did not provide truthful responses to Congress.
Having a full accounting of your email use as Oklahoma Attorney General directly bears on the Committee’s ability to conduct effective oversight of your conduct as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator. It has only been through the public disclosure of your emails that Congress learned of your symbiotic relationship with the energy companies you now regulate as EPA Administrator. In a Pulitzer Prize winning investigation, The New York Times documented your practice of raising political funds from energy companies in exchange for advancing their interests through litigation and the regulatory process. Now that you direct much of that litigation and rulemaking as Administrator, a full accounting of communications you have had with that industry is of obvious importance.
The EPW Committee asked you to identify all email addresses you used as Attorney General when it was considering your nomination to be Administrator of the EPA. After providing an initial incorrect response, you corrected your answer. Then you had to correct your answer again with a second email address. Now it appears you will have to correct the record a third time. The Oklahoma Bar Association is already investigating whether your testimony to Congress involved “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” in violation of Oklahoma Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4. This latest omission is plainly relevant to that inquiry.
The following timeline of events documents your continuing pattern of obstruction and evasion on this issue.
January 4, 2017
You listed an “@me.com” email address as your only “Business E-Mail” in your EPW questionnaire that you submitted to Congress. (See Appendix A)
January 18, 2017
You appeared before the EPW Committee at a hearing on your nomination to be EPA Administrator, and you had the following exchange:
Senator Whitehouse: … [O]n your questionnaire you listed an email address with a me.com domain as your business email. You also have an oag.ok.gov address, are there other email addresses that you have, are there other email address that you use for business other than your me.com and your oag.ok.gov email addresses?
Scott Pruitt: The me.com address is not a business email address, I’m not sure why it was designated as such.
Senator Whitehouse: Ok well we can just correct the filing on that.
Scott Pruitt: There are no other email addresses if that’s your question, senator.
January 24, 2017
You responded in writing to questions for the record after your confirmation hearing.
Senator Whitehouse (Question 114): How many email addresses have you used since becoming Attorney General of Oklahoma? How many do you still use? Please provide the domains of all email addresses you’ve used during your time as Attorney General of Oklahoma, along with the dates used, and note whether they were personal, professional, or both.
Scott Pruitt: I have used two e-mail addresses since becoming Attorney General of Oklahoma. I use a personal e-mail address for personal e-mail, and an official e-mail address for official business. The domain of my personal e-mail address is me.com and the domain for my official e-mail address is oag.ok.gov.
February 7, 2017
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed a lawsuit alleging you violated the Oklahoma Open Records Act for failing to respond to ORA requests for over two years, asking the court to compel the release of responsive documents and block the destruction of emails.
February 10, 2017
In response to CMD’s lawsuit, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office provided 411 documents responsive to a January 2015 ORA request by CMD. You were still Attorney General at the time this disclosure was made. One innocuous email with your personal address was included and none with the firstname.lastname@example.org address.
February 14, 2017
CMD filed a status report alleging the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office had improperly withheld thousands of emails from the February 10 release, describing at least 27 missing emails that your office had provided to The New York Times in 2014 that were responsive to its request.
February 16, 2017
The Oklahoma County Court ordered you to release emails improperly withheld from the February 10 release, and ordered you to disclose documents responsive to five other outstanding CMD requests by February 21.
February 17, 2017
You were confirmed by the Senate.
February 21, 2017
The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office provided an additional 7,564 pages of responsive records to January 2015 request. Documents in this disclosure showed that you used your @me.com email address for business purposes, contradicting your January 24 responses to the Committee. Emails to email@example.com were included in this disclosure but did not display your name next to it. This release shows that people outside of your office emailed you at your undisclosed firstname.lastname@example.org email address as far back as 2014 and emailed your personal email address about official business as far back as 2013.
Emails using the @me.com address, attached in Appendix B, included:
- August 14, 2013 email to you from Sarah K. Magruder Lyle, Vice-President of Strategic Initiatives at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), copying Clayton Eubanks (your then solicitor general). The email included the AFPM’s Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) waiver petition it filed with EPA and expressed AFPM’s interest in Oklahoma “filing a similar waiver requests highlighting the environmental harm caused by the RFS mandate.”
- April 16, 2013 email from Amy Kjose Anderson, Civil Justice Task Force Director and Oklahoma Membership Contact at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to you, Ashley Olmstead (your former executive assistant), and Melissa Houston (your then chief of staff), copying Derek Albro (Devon Energy), regarding your remarks at an ALEC meeting. (@me.com was redacted)
Emails using the email@example.com address without your name displayed, attached in Appendix C, included:
- March 31, 2014 email from Henry N. Butler (George Mason University School of Law) to you, Roger Nober (BNSF Railways), Shawn Regan (Property and Environment Research Center), Nathan Richardson (Resources for the Future), and Frank Wolak (Stanford) about your participation in a panel discussion “Collateral Damage in the War on Carbon,” copying your Melissa Houston (your then chief of staff), Tom Bates (your then First Assistant Attorney General), and others.
February 24, 2017
Oklahoma Fox 25 published a story, ”Okla. AG’s office confirms Pruitt used private email for state business,” and released a video reporting the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office confirmed you used your personal email address for official business. These stories featured emails Fox 25 obtained through an Open Records Act request that was nearly two years old, showing you used your @me.com address to conduct official business.
March 17, 2017
Senators Carper, Sanders, Whitehouse, Markey, and Duckworth asked you to correct the record on emails and commit to transparency at EPA after “recent reporting and long-delayed disclosure of emails and other documents from your time as the Oklahoma Attorney General show that you were not fully forthcoming and truthful with the Committee in advance of your confirmation.”
March 21, 2017
University of Oklahoma College of Law Professor Kristen van de Biezenbos and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a complaint with the Oklahoma Bar Association requesting an investigation into whether you violated Oklahoma Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(c), which states, “[i]t is professional misconduct for a lawyer to ... engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,” because the emails released after your hearing indicated you had provided untruthful answers to the Committee.
March 28, 2017
The Oklahoma Bar Association indicated it opened an investigation into the complaint against you, and asked you to respond. (see Appendix D)
May 5, 2017
After the Oklahoma Bar Association started its investigation of you, you responded to our March 17 letter acknowledging you used your personal email address to conduct official business. You explained your incorrect answers were “based on the best information available at the time and having only four days to complete approximately 1,100 written questions and subparts.” You did not explain that your personal email address only came to light after the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office was compelled by court order to release documents responsive to an ORA request from 2015. You also did not explain that the only obligation you were under when responding to questions for the record was to be complete and accurate, and that the decision to respond in only four days was your own. In your May 5 correction, you still did not acknowledge your third email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 12, 2017
The Oklahoma Office of Attorney General released additional emails – this time in response to a November 2015 CMD ORA requests pertaining to the Clean Power Plan – which for the first time displayed your name next to the email address email@example.com. These emails show that you sent and received email from this address and used it to interact with your senior staff as recently as October 2016. Emails include (See Appendix E):
- May 25, 2016 email to you from Will Gattenby (your then press secretary), copying Mike Hunter (current Attorney General of Oklahoma who was First Assistant Attorney General at the time) and several other members of your staff, about your appearance before the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Environment on the “Impact of Clean Power Plan on States.” It includes suggested answers to potential questions, including why you had not responded to Open Records Act requests and mentions a “dropbox.”
- October 5, 2016 email to you from Lincoln Ferguson (previously your press secretary in the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office and currently an EPA spokesperson) about an interview focused on “discussing federal overreach (Clean Power Plan, DOL, ICANN)” that includes talking points.
Based on these new emails, we again ask you to correct the record and provide a complete and accurate answer to Whitehouse QFR 114 regarding the email addresses you used while serving as Attorney General of Oklahoma. We also request you answer these additional questions:
1) There are dozens of outstanding Oklahoma Open Record Act requests pertaining to your time as the Attorney General of Oklahoma. Does the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office have access to all firstname.lastname@example.org emails, has that address been searched for emails and documents responsive to Open Records Act requests, and will it be searched in response to outstanding requests?
2) Have all emails sent by and received at the email@example.com been retained?
3) An email in Appendix E mentions a “dropbox.” Please explain what that is. Has it been searched for emails and documents responsive to Open Records Act requests; will it be searched in response to outstanding requests; and have all documents been retained?
4) Have you informed the Oklahoma Bar Association about your failure to tell the Committee about your firstname.lastname@example.org email address? If so, on what date? If you did so before the date of this letter, why did you disclose this information to the Oklahoma Bar Association and not the Committee? If you have not yet disclosed this information, why not?
5) During your confirmation, you were asked to commit “to notifying the Committee of all of the email addresses you plan to use upon confirmation and within seven days of using a new email address including any aliases or pseudonyms.” In response you stated: “I commit to notifying the Committee of the e-mail I use for official business.” Since you were confirmed on February 17, you have provided the committee with only one email address, Pruitt.Scott@epa.gov, which is listed in the public directory. Are you using any other email address at EPA to conduct official business?
6) For any email addresses responsive to the previous question, please confirm that that EPA is searching those addresses to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests requesting electronic communications to and from you.
7) Have you used any other email addresses or other forms of electronic communication since you became EPA Administrator to communicate for any purpose with any entity that has business before EPA, or representatives thereof? If so, please provide those addresses. We emphasize the phrase “for any purpose” because we do not want you limit your answer to this question by narrowly construing what constitutes EPA business.
These continuing revelations raise serious questions about whether you continue to hide information from your time as Oklahoma Attorney General and that you cannot be trusted to inform Congress about your communications as EPA Administrator. The EPW Committee expects, and federal law requires, that you respond to the Committee completely and accurately. We request a prompt and complete response by Thursday, June 22, 2017, as your response will inform next steps that may be appropriate in this matter.
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