Wed. Oct 23rd, 2019

EPA fires staffer who approved report downplaying threats to Scott Pruitt

A career staffer at the Environmental Protection Agency who approved an internal report on threats against Scott Pruitt was removed Tuesday amid criticism of the high level of security spending by the agency’s administrator.

Mario Caraballo, the former deputy associate administrator of the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security, had signed off on a Feb. 14 security assessment that said, “EPA Intelligence has not identified any specific, credible, direct threat to the EPA administrator.”

Caraballo was fired shortly after Senate Democrats cited the assessment as evidence that the $3 million reportedly spent on Pruitt’s security in response to perceived death threats was unwarranted.

The EPA said the timing was a coincidence. An unnamed source told Politico that the EPA claimed Caraballo was fired in relation to a decade-old issue for a previous military job he held.

“I am not aware of any connection between the personnel matter and the document mentioned in media reports,” EPA official Donna Vizian said in a statement.

Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee wrote in a letter Tuesday that after reviewing the Feb. 14 security assessment and other documents they found the purported threats against Pruitt consisted of public protests, criticism of Pruitt’s policies and other activities protected by the First Amendment.

In the letter, Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said the committee should “immediately initiate bipartisan oversight hearings into the extent and justification” of Pruitt’s security spending. Committee chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., denied the request and chastised the democratic senators for disclosing “law enforcement sensitive information.”

The Democratic senators called Caraballo’s firing “deeply troubling.”

“This development underscores the need for the Environment and Public Works Committee to conduct effective oversight of the EPA to answer the serious questions that have come to light in recent days concerning management and ethical conduct by the administrator and his staff,” Carper and Whitehouse said in a joint statement.

The Associated Press reported last week that Pruitt keeps a 20-member full-time security detail (three times the size of his predecessor) and he has used security concerns as a justification for his first-class travel.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox has cited an “unprecedented” amount of death threats against Pruitt and his family as justification for the high levels of security. But, according to Carper and Whitehouse, the “threats” included “reports of non-violent protests” and “negative feedback about the Administrator’s actions.”

For example, the senators said that among the threats against Pruitt listed in an Oct. 17 internal EPA memo were:

  • “A social media post in which an individual ‘stated he is not happy with some of the Administrator’s policies and wanted to express his displeasure.'”
  • A postcard saying, “Climate CHANGE IS REAL!!! We are watching you.”
  • An email saying, “Hi! I am considering dumping the old paint I just scraped off of my home outside your office door on Tuesday.”

A nationwide search of state and federal court records by AP found no case where anyone has been arrested or charged with making violent threats against Pruitt.

The security spending is just one scandal plaguing President Trump’s beleaguered EPA head. Pruitt is the subject of at least five ongoing probes into spending and ethics issues by the agency’s watchdog and a House oversight committee is looking into his $50-a-night Capitol Hill condo rental from a fossil fuels lobbyist.

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