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

The Washington Times Daily - - POL­I­TICS - BY BEN WOLF­GANG BY S.A. MILLER AND STEPHEN DI­NAN

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

Pruitt

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