February 9, 2017

Time to Wake Up: What is Scott Pruitt Hiding?

Mr. President, what is Scott Pruitt hiding?

Last week the Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on Trump’s nominee to the Environmental Protection Agency.  Today, I rise for my 155th “Time to Wake Up” speech with unanswered questions about Mr. Pruitt’s fitness for that role.  His evasiveness at his hearing signaled nothing good about his ties to the industry he would regulate if confirmed.  And the lack of curiosity about these industry ties from my Republican colleagues speaks volumes about the political clout of that industry. 

Our new Chairman, Senator Barrasso, posed a standard question of Mr. Pruitt in our hearing:   “Do you know of any matters, which you may or may not have disclosed, that might place you in any conflict of interest if you are confirmed?”  Mr.  Pruitt answered, “No.”

Scott Pruitt crawls with conflict of interest.  He has conflicts of interest with the fossil fuel industry from his political fundraising, we just don’t know how bad.   He likely has conflicts of interest from confidential “private meetings” with fossil fuel companies at Republican Attorneys General Association get-togethers, we just don’t know how bad.  There is almost certainly evidence of conflicts of interest in his undisclosed emails with fossil fuel companies, we just don’t know how bad. 

And he came clean on none of it in his confirmation hearing. 

[Connections chart]

This chart is a simple, and likely incomplete, representation of the many financial links reported between Pruitt and the fossil fuel industry.  At the top are companies and entities that have supported Mr. Pruitt.  Down below are political organizations for which he has raised money.

Pruitt for Attorney General was his reelection campaign.  The polluters gave to Pruitt for Attorney General.

Oklahoma Strong PAC was his leadership PAC, a separate political fundraising vehicle.  The polluters gave to Oklahoma Strong. 

Pruitt closed down his super PAC, Liberty 2.0, so it’s not listed here.  But Pruitt’s superPAC took nearly $200,000 in fossil fuel industry contributions as well.

Mr. Pruitt served as the chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association in 2012 and 2013 and remained a member of RAGA’s executive committee through 2015.  Between 2014 and 2016, RAGA received $530,000 from Koch Industries, $350,000 from Murray Energy, $160,000 from ExxonMobil and $125,000 from Devon Energy. 

(Devon Energy, just by the way, is the company whose letter Pruitt transposed virtually verbatim onto his official letterhead to send to the EPA as the official position of the Oklahoma Attorney General.)

[RAGA agenda]

During the hearing, Pruitt refused to provide details about any solicitations he made from regulated industries for the Republican Attorney Generals Association.  We know they got special attention from RAGA.  Here is a “confidential” 2015 meeting agenda from RAGA, when Pruitt was on the executive committee. 

I ask unanimous consent to enter the meeting agenda page into the Record.

The “confidential” agenda mentions a “private meeting” with Murray Energy.  It mentions a “private meeting” with Southern Company.  It mentions a “private meeting” with the American Fuel Petrochemical Manufacturers.  These are all groups in Pruitt’s political web.  There’s Murray Energy and there’s Southern Company.  I’m sure the American Fuel Petrochemical Manufacturers represent a lot of the others.  But this “confidential” agenda is all we have;  nothing—no minutes, no statements, no reports—about what took place in those “private meetings.”

I asked Mr. Pruitt in our hearing about the content of those “private meetings” and he wouldn’t answer my questions.  He doesn’t want us to know what was discussed there with the big fossil polluters—companies whose pollution he will oversee as EPA Administrator.

Pruitt was also chairman of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a dark money political operation that launders the identity of donors to the Republican Attorney Generals Association.  As New York Times said, the Fund is a “legal entity that allows companies benefiting from the actions of Mr. Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general to make anonymous donations, in unlimited amounts.”  It’s a complete black hole of political cash. 

In the hearing, Pruitt refused to shine any light into the dark money he solicited or received from these fossil fuel polluters for the Rule of Law Defense Fund—not who he asked for money, not what they gave, nothing.  This is an organization that appears to have a million-dollar-a-year budget, so someone was busy raising a lot of money.  How much, exactly, from whom, and what was the deal?  Scott Pruitt doesn’t want our Committee, or this Senate, or the American people, to know.

Colleagues and I sent letters to the Office of Government Ethics and to the Environmental Protection Agency’s top ethics official.  Their responses indicate that their ethics rules predate Citizens United and its torrent of dark political money.  Their regulatory authority on government ethics has not caught up with the post-Citizens United dark-money world.  Since their ethics authorities have not been updated for dark-money conflicts, if Pruitt doesn’t disclose any of this information before the Senate, then no one will know, and even the government ethics watchdogs may end up blind to it.

That doesn’t mean it’s not a conflict of interest.  That means it’s a hidden conflict of interest.  And that makes it our duty in the Senate to examine those relationships.  Except that the fossil fuel industry now more or less runs the Republican Party, so there’s a scrupulous lack of interest in these fossil fuel industry emails.

How badly does Mr. Pruitt want to hide his dealings with his fossil fuel patrons? 

An Open Records Act request was filed with the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office—Mr. Pruitt’s office—for emails with energy firms, fossil fuel trade groups, and their political arms—with companies like Devon Energy, Murray Energy, and Koch Industries; with Americans for Prosperity, the Koch front group; and the American Petroleum Institute, the industry trade association. 

Let me share three facts about this Open Records inquiry:   One, the Open Records Act request was filed more than 745 days ago—over two years, Mr. President.  Two years.

Two, Pruitt’s office has admitted that there are at least 3,000 responsive documents.  Consider that fact alone:  there were 3,000 emails and other documents between his office and these fossil-fuel companies and front groups.  3,000.  

Three, exactly zero of those documents have been produced.   745 days; 3,000 documents; zero produced. 

Think how smelly those 3,000 emails must be when he’d rather have this flagrant Open Records compliance failure than have those 3,000 emails see the light of day. 

Given the important financial interests of these groups before the EPA, do we really not think that 3,000 emails back and forth between him and his office and those groups might be relevant to his conflicts of interest as Administrator?  Until very recently, Republicans had a keen interest in emails.

Chairman Barrasso asked that important question: “Do you know of any matters, which you may or may not have disclosed, that might place you in any conflict of interest if you are confirmed?”  Scott Pruitt answered: “No.” 

On this record, there is every reason to believe that his statement is false.

Might having raised significant dark money from the industry he would regulate create a conflict of interest?  Let’s say he made a call to Devon Energy and said, “I slapped your letter on my letterhead.  Now I need a million bucks.  And you can give it to the Rule of Law Defense Fund as dark money, without anyone knowing it was you.”  Might such a quid pro quo create a conflict of interest in his ability to carry out the duties of EPA Administrator in matters affecting Devon Energy?

Let’s say there were deals cut at those confidential “private meetings” with Murray Energy and Southern Company.  They paid to be there; they wanted something.  Might that not give rise to conflict of interest?

And who knows what conflicts of interest would be divulged, if his office were not sitting on 3,000 undisclosed emails with regulated fossil-fuel industries?  3,000!

“No” just doesn’t cut it as an answer from Mr. Pruitt, when there’s still so much he’s hiding.

I yield the floor.