Whitehouse Team Helps Bring Down EPA's Pruitt

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said his office was at the center of efforts to remove Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said his office was at the center of efforts to remove Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Video and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The takedown of Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had some help from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and an investigative operation by his office.

Shortly after President Trump was sworn in, Whitehouse hired Joe Gaeta as his chief legal counsel to oversee the project. Gaeta has worked with Whitehouse since he was Rhode Island attorney general.

“We had an investigative operation that opened up. And (Pruitt) was the No. 1 target of that operation,” Whitehouse said.

Whitehouse said he established a legal team, a judicial team, and an environment team to conduct the anti-Pruitt project in conjunction with his media team. He said his office received information from EPA employees “who trusted us.”

His team also investigated letters of complaint sent to the EPA. When they uncovered misconduct, they sent letters to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

And they shared information with the media.

“We were like passing on information they had to reporters to be able to run stuff down,” Whitehouse said.

Whitehouse made the admission during a Feb. 1 climate event at Brown University. Watch the video below by Uprise RI.

“We were at the center of all that investigative work and putting people together and getting leaks out to press and we took a lot of satisfaction when that particular person left,” Whitehouse said.

Pruitt resigned July 5, 2018, after more than a dozen ethics controversies that began soon after he took over the agency in February 2017. The scandals included scrubbing events from his calendar, excessive spending on travel, and buying a soundproof booth for his office. Pruitt also leased a Washington, D.C., condo from a lobbyist for a below-market-rate of $50 a night.

The controversies were expected as Pruitt was investigated for his close ties with the fossil-fuel industry and their lobbyists in his previous job as the attorney general for Oklahoma. As the Oklahoma AG, Pruitt, a climate denier, sued the EPA to dismantle Obama-era climate-change policies.

“We established the position of chief counsel to lead investigative work when Trump came in, because we knew it was going to be a whole different world,” Whitehouse said.