Trump gave him a vote of confidence a few days ago when he was under fire on all sides from the media over ethical issues. But watch this clip. The White House doesn’t sound so confident anymore.
What changed? How’d we go from “We have your back” to “I can’t speak to the future of Scott Pruitt” in 48 hours? According to WaPo, it was Ed Henry’s sitdown with Pruitt last night on the president’s favorite channel.
The updated assessment comes as members of President Trump’s inner circle have become increasingly critical of Pruitt of his handling of several different ethical misconduct allegations, according to a senior White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly. Despite Pruitt’s denials, Trump’s top aides are convinced he played a key role in authorizing massive raises last month for two staffers that joined him at EPA from Oklahoma…
White House officials are also uneasy with the administrator’s recent publicity push with conservative media outlets, including his appearance on Fox News. They had urged Pruitt not to do any interviews Tuesday or Wednesday, according to several senior administration officials, but he disregarded that advice.
If it’s true that he defied their instructions on the interviews, that would allegedly be the second time recently that he’s done the opposite of what the White House wanted. In fact, according to Josh Dawsey, one of the reporters who wrote the WaPo story, Pruitt disobeyed orders about not doing interviews not once but twice:
White House officials told Pruitt not to do interviews. He did anyway. Then John Kelly called and said no more — and that his media tour wasn't helping. Pruitt forged ahead. Interviews seen by White House as not credible, particularly on staff pay raises. https://t.co/9MlFw2iSGg
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) April 5, 2018
Dawsey claimed on Twitter that Pruitt’s Fox interview was seen as a “disaster” in the West Wing. And not just by Kelly, apparently:
Senior administration official tells @jeffzeleny that Trump was not pleased with Pruitt's interviews with Fox News and the Washington Examiner.
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) April 5, 2018
Watch the interview below, which really is surprisingly combative, especially by Fox standards for a Trump official. If it’s true that Pruitt’s performance diminished him in Trump’s eyes, it would turn the calculus for executive branch officers on doing Fox interviews upside down. Normally that’s the place you go to show off for POTUS. You know he’ll be watching and you expect that the questions you get won’t be designed to put you on the spot, particularly in primetime. A good performance there is an easy way to raise your standing with the president. But if you screw up and come off as dishonest, embarrassing the White House before an audience of Trump and his fans, you’ve got a problem.
Going forward, the smart play for Trump deputies might be to stay away from the “news” side of Fox News, which may feel it has something to prove given the attacks on the network as de facto “state media.” Coincidentally, Pruitt tried to ingratiate himself to Fox early yesterday by allowing only their cameras into an event at which he announced the EPA’s new emissions standards. (A Fox reporter notified the other networks on the scene to avert that.) Ed Henry might have gone into his interview with Pruitt with guns blazing precisely because he knew that Pruitt — and everyone else — was expecting this to be a “damage control” Q&A in which Pruitt would get to give his side of the ethics controversies more or less unchallenged. If Fox’s news division is going to try to overcompensate for Hannity’s kid-gloves treatment of the White House by being this hard on Trump officials, FNC’s daytime personnel will quickly become a no-go zone for them. Unless POTUS calls Rupert Murdoch to complain, perhaps.
However unhappy Trump is, the prime mover against Pruitt in the West Wing appears to be John Kelly, who reportedly called him Monday after news about his sweetheart condo rental rate from a lobbyist was published in WaPo. Is there any other bad news coming, Kelly asked Pruitt, according to the Daily Beast? Nope, said Pruitt. Hours later, the Atlantic dropped the story about Pruitt supposedly ignoring White House instructions to give two top staffers pay raises. Then, as noted above, Pruitt allegedly ignored Kelly again by continuing his media tour despite orders to the contrary. Trump said this afternoon that he still has confidence in Pruitt but it’s true (as Tom Price could tell you) that he doesn’t have much patience for ethical scandals that aren’t his own. It’s one thing for him to undermine his “drain the swamp” brand, it’s something else for a deputy to do it. Stay tuned.