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Pruitt's Possible Ethics Violations

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is facing several investigations into possible ethics violations and misuse of taxpayer dollars. The latest probe looks at his use of a government security detail for personal trips to Disneyland, basketball games and other places. With me to discuss these investigations, Don Fox. He served as general counsel at the Office of Government Ethics in the Bush and Obama administrations. Mr. Fox, welcome to the program.

DON FOX: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: How exceptional is it for a cabinet member to travel with a security detail?

FOX: Well, Rachel, it's actually fairly situational. Each Cabinet department is responsible for the security of its head or its secretary. So it really depends. It's a threat-specific environment that determines whether, first of all, the secretary will have security and second of all, whether that's 24/7 security or whether that's security that's really just during duty day and when on official business.

MARTIN: And we've heard Scott Pruitt say that he's needed the security detail because he has felt threatened in certain public situations. Which of the allegations against Scott Pruitt strikes you as most problematic for him?

FOX: Well, there are so many, whether it's, you know, the sweetheart deal he got on the apartment in Capitol Hill, the use of his employees to find himself more permanent lodging, first-class travel, building of a special telephone room in his office. It's more sort of a theme that you see with Scott Pruitt where he seems very frugal with his own money but he seems, you know, perfectly willing to spend the taxpayers' money without giving it a second thought.

MARTIN: But does the fact that we're hearing about these allegations, does that mean that the checks and balances are working?

FOX: To some extent, yes. Fortunately, within EPA and other Cabinet agencies, we have independent inspectors general who really cannot be fired by the head of the agency except for cause and with notifying Congress. So those inspectors general certainly are independent and fully capable of investigating these allegations. And second of all, you know, you have hundreds and you have thousands of career people who work in those agencies who know that what they see with Scott Pruitt and some of the president's other Cabinet officials is just not the norm.

MARTIN: Although the president has expressed his support for Scott Pruitt. Do you believe based on what's out there that there will be any repercussions for him with these allegations?

FOX: Well, it's hard to say. I mean, he's certainly - Scott Pruitt's certainly carrying out the president's agenda as far as the environment and the dismantling of EPA is concerned, although, you know, it wouldn't be the first time that a cabinet official has gotten a pat on the back from the president shortly before a shove out the door.

MARTIN: Don Fox served as general counsel at the Office of Government Ethics. Thanks so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

FOX: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.