Judge orders Pruitt to turn over thousands of emails
Critics demand delay of EPA pick’s confirmation Acosta picked to be labor secretary; Mulvaney OK’d as budget chief
Giving new fuel to critics who are demanding Senate leaders halt a vote on his confirmation to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt late Thursday was ordered by an Oklahoma judge to turn over thousands of unseen emails related to his communications with the oil-and-gas industry.
The decision from Oklahoma District Court Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons came hours after Mr. Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, cleared a preliminary vote in the Senate with support strongly breaking along party lines.
All but two of the 48 members of the Democratic caucus voted against Mr. Pruitt in Thursday’s vote, citing, among other things, the fact that he’d withheld nearly 3,000 emails that detractors say will show clear collusion with the fossil fuels sector.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, on Thursday said Republicans were executing an “epic ram-job” to get Mr. Pruitt through the Senate before the emails come to light.
Despite those claims, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office said Thursday night that Friday’s vote will go ahead as scheduled, though the calls to delay that vote will only grow over the next day. Mr. Pruitt must turn over the emails by Tuesday, according to the judge’s order.
“Scott Pruitt and Senate Republicans have made a mockery of the confirmation process, permitting the nominee to escape scrutiny and hide his deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. What is he hiding in all of these emails?” Melinda Pierce, legislative director at the Sierra Club, said in a statement.
“The vote to confirm Pruitt must now be delayed until every senator can see
President Trump named R. Alexander Acosta to be his new Labor Department secretary Thursday, moving swiftly to replace Andrew Puzder, who withdrew a day earlier.
And Mr. Trump scored another victory in the Senate as lawmakers confirmed his budget director, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, elevating a committed budget hawk to the nerve center of the Trump policy-making apparatus.
The president called the congressman “a fantastic addition” to his team, but said the Senate vote was “weeks, weeks late” — blasting Democrats who have put up near-universal opposition to his Cabinet picks.
“The only thing they can do is delay because they screwed things up royally, believe me,” the president said.
Democrats say the reason for their opposition is the quality and tenor of the president’s nominees. They say proof of that is Mr. Puzder, CEO of a company that oversees Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. franchises, and who withdrew his nomination after accusations of spousal abuse and employing an illegal
just who Pruitt is and what he will do if permitted to run the EPA,” she said.
The judge’s order comes in response to open-records requests from the Center for Media and Democracy, which has been seeking the emails since 2015. So far, Mr. Pruitt has provided only about 411 of the 3,000 emails requested, according to the group.
In the order, Judge Timmons said there is “no reasonable explanation” why Mr. Pruitt hasn’t turned over the documents. Critics say the emails will show the former attorney general often has, in essence, done the bidding of the oil-andgas industry.
As an example, they point to a 2011 letter Mr. Pruitt sent to the EPA charging that the agency had greatly overestimated the air pollution caused by natural gas drilling. Much of the language in the letter appears to have been written by Devon Energy, a leading Oklahoma energy company. immigrant as a maid.
In his place, Mr. Trump tapped Mr. Acosta, a former National Labor Relations Board member and dean of Florida International University College of Law. He also served as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.
He also is the first Hispanic nominated for a post in Mr. Trump’s Cabinet, drawing praise from Latino groups who’d felt shut out by the previous lineup.
Liberal activists said they had concerns about Mr. Acosta’s time at the Justice Department, but the level of criticism was far more muted than for
In testimony before the Senate last month, Mr. Pruitt didn’t dispute using the company’s language in the letter, but said that his job was to represent industry in his state, including oil companies.
“That was an effort that was protecting the state’s interest,” he told a Senate panel Jan. 18. “It was particular to an industry … There was concern expressed by that industry.”
If the vote goes ahead as scheduled Friday, Mr. Pruitt likely will win confirmation. Two Democrats — Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — have said they’ll vote to confirm him and did so in Thursday’s preliminary vote.
At least one Republican will oppose Mr. Pruitt in Friday’s final vote, though five would need to for the nomination to be rejected.
Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, voted in favor of Mr. Pruitt’s nomination in some of the president’s other picks, who have been targeted for Democratic filibusters.
One of those was Mr. Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican has been outspoken about his support for reeling in entitlement programs that threaten to swallow the federal budget, and has also defended the 2011 budget caps that imposed severe spending limits on both domestic and defense spending.
Those views made him deeply controversial, even within some quarters of the GOP. Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, denounced him as a danger to national security, and joined Democrats in voting against him.
Still, Mr. Mulvaney cleared on a 51-49 vote.
His backers said Mr. Mulvaney is the right person to rein in the mass of regulations the Obama administration imposed on the economy.
“Mr. Mulvaney will be able to play a crucial role in taming the unchecked growth of the federal government,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, chairman of the Budget Committee.
As the head of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Mr.
Thursday’s procedural vote, but said she’ll vote “no” during final approval on Friday.
“I have significant concerns that Mr. Pruitt has actively opposed and sued EPA on numerous issues that are of great importance to the state of Maine, including mercury controls for coal-fired power plants and efforts to reduce cross-state air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” she said in a statement. “His actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.”
Mr. Pruitt, who built his political career largely off of battling the EPA in court, will assume his position amid fears he’ll essentially dismantle the very agency he’s set to lead. Democrats fear Mr. Pruitt, at the direction of President Trump, will pursue policies that will defang the EPA and roll back key environmental protections.
“Donald Trump has made clear his Mulvaney will not only oversee the annual writing of the president’s budget, but he serves as the nerve center for basic government operations, reviewing every regulation that departments and agencies want to propose.
That makes him the gatekeeper for deciding most of the big questions of how the federal government operates.
Democrats said Mr. Mulvaney was an odd choice for Mr. Trump, saying the congressman’s stances on reining in entitlements clashes with the president’s campaign vows to protect benefits for Social Security and Medicare.
“Not only has he advocated for cutting benefits, he wants to jack up the retirement age for Medicare to 67, and for Social Security, he wants to raise it to 70,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.
During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Mulvaney didn’t back down from his stances, but said he’ll only be a voice advocating to Mr. Trump. The president will make the final decisions, Mr. Mulvaney said.
The congressman also ran into trouble when he admitted he had failed to pay payroll taxes on a housekeeper from 2000 to 2004.
job, his goal, is to degrade, to destroy, the Environmental Protection Agency,” Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, said on the Senate floor just before Thursday’s vote. “With the nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, it’s clear” he intends to follow through on that goal.
Mr. Pruitt’s Republican supporters counter that the EPA had become an outof-control regulatory behemoth under former President Obama and must be reined in.
“For the last eight years, the political leaders of this agency have been reckless, irresponsible, and arrogant. Change is badly needed at the Environmental Protection Agency and Scott Pruitt will be that change,” Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said on the Senate floor Thursday. “Under his leadership, this agency will respect the rule of law.”
R. Alexander Acosta