Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has been caught repeatedly misleading Congress about his use of different email accounts during his six years as Oklahoma’s attorney general.
He said he used just one email, when he actually had two. He sent official correspondence from a personal address, and appeared to deliberately delay public-records requests to cover his tracks before facing a Senate confirmation hearing.
Now, a senator involved in that confirmation process is backing an effort that could get Pruitt disbarred in his home state, Oklahoma, for violating ethics rules.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) plans to submit a lengthy statement and 60 pages of evidence to the Oklahoma Bar Association on Tuesday for its investigation into Pruitt, whom he accuses of lying to him during and after the hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The bar association began probing Pruitt in March in response to an ethics complaint filed by an environmental group and a University of Oklahoma law professor.
Whitehouse, in a letter provided to HuffPost before he submitted it to the bar association, says Pruitt’s “misleading answers, evasiveness, and stonewalling” prevented lawmakers from fully vetting the candidate before advancing his nomination for a Senate confirmation vote.
“I have had a front-row seat for Mr. Pruitt’s misleading testimony and his ongoing failure to respond completely and truthfully to Committee requests for him to set the record straight,” Whitehouse wrote in the letter, addressed to bar association general counsel Gina Hendryx. “This conduct is unbecoming of an attorney who is also a public official and who, under law, is required to testify truthfully to Congress.”
Pruitt’s deep ties to fossil fuel industries whose pollution he’s now charged with policing became a lightning rod during his confirmation process. Correspondence published by The New York Times in 2014 as part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning series showed Pruitt allowing lawyers from Devon Energy, an oil and gas company, to write a complaint to the EPA under his official letterhead. Since taking office, Pruitt has spent an unusual amount of time courting fossil fuel executives amid aggressive rollbacks of regulations and programs to address climate change.
His failure to provide accurate testimony on his email use fuels concerns that he misled lawmakers to obscure his push to boost oil and gas profits ahead of public health. If he is found guilty of violating rules, the bar association could choose to sanction Pruitt, suspend his license or, in the most severe scenario, disbar him for at least five years.
It’s unclear how disbarment would affect his job as EPA administrator.
“He misstated the facts over and over again,” Whitehouse told HuffPost in a phone interview on Monday. “This was a case of repeat prevarications, not just an inadvertent slip.”
During his first appearance before Congress in January, Pruitt claimed he never used his personal email address for official business. He told Whitehouse that there were “no other email addresses.” After the hearing, he confirmed the statement, telling Whitehouse: “I have used two email addresses since becoming attorney general of Oklahoma. I use a personal email address for personal email, and an official email address for official business. The domain of my personal email address is me.com and the domain for my official email address is oag.ok.gov.”
On Feb. 21, four days after he the Senate narrowly confirmed his nomination, the Oklahoma attorney general’s office released 7,564 pages of Pruitt’s emails under court order following a lawsuit from the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy. The correspondence showed Pruitt using his personal email for official purposes, contradicting his testimony.
In June, the second cache of emails handed over to the Wisconsin-based watchdog group revealed that Pruitt used two addresses for the Oklahoma attorney general’s office: firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com. The latter, as The Washington Post noted, used the initials for Pruitt’s full name, Edward Scott Pruitt.
Whitehouse said Pruitt stalled efforts to make the emails public under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act. In the five months after Mike Hunter, Pruitt’s successor, took over, his office cleared a backlog of open-records requests that dated back to 2014.
The EPA did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
“Somebody needs to hold Scott Pruitt to account or at least investigate some of the questions that remain on his record during his time as Oklahoma attorney general,” Nick Surgey, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy, told HuffPost by phone. “There were many questions that were asked during his confirmation hearing that should have been answered but they weren’t.”
John Williams, executive director of the Oklahoma Bar Association, declined to comment on the status of the investigation, but said it could be many months before it concludes.
“It can be a fairly elaborate and lengthy process,” Williams told HuffPost. In anticipation of Whitehouse’s submission, he said: “I assume that would cause the investigation to go on longer.”
If the bar association concludes that Pruitt violated ethics rules, the case is turned over to a committee that determines whether charges should be filed, and a special tribunal responsible for holding hearings. Ultimately, the state Supreme Court reviews the investigation.
The ethics complaint could provide legal ammunition for other challenges to Pruitt’s regulatory agenda. Whitehouse said lawsuits opposing EPA rollbacks of rules on oil and gas companies could go after Pruitt for alleged conflicts of interest.
“It’s regrettable that these steps have to be taken about somebody who has been shoved into a Cabinet-level position in the government of the United States of America,” Whitehouse said. “But that’s the world under Trump.”
Jim Shepard’s new novel, “Phase Six,” is a fast-paced, suspenseful story about what happens when a different microbe is unleashed on the world. Strangely enough, Shepard began the book four years ago after reading about a boy in Siberia killed by rejuvenated anthrax spores that had been frozen in a reindeer carcass. Shepard has long excelled at writing about arcane subjects.
First couple’s income dropped from nearly $1m while Harris and Emhoff paid even steeper price Joe and Jill Biden arrive in Delaware on Saturday for a weekend trip home. Photograph: Cheriss May/Reuters Joe Biden forfeited more than a third of his annual income in running for the White House last year, with his newly disclosed 2020 tax returns showing a drop in earnings from almost $1m in 2019 to $607,336. Joe Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden, released their 2020 joint tax returns on Monday. They show that the couple saw their income fall by some 38% from 2019, largely because Biden had to give up high-paying bookings on the speaker circuit when he launched his presidential campaign. The Bidens paid $157,414 in federal income tax last year – a rate of 26%. In 2019 the balance sheet looked substantially more lucrative, with a combined income of $985,233 and total taxes of $299,346. Details from the Bidens’ 2020 tax return were published by Bloomberg News shortly before the White House made the figures available. Kamala Harris paid an even steeper price after she stood as Biden’s running mate in the presidential election and now as vice-president. Her 2020 joint tax returns with her husband, Doug Emhoff, record federal adjusted gross income of $1.7m last year. That was dramatically down from $3.1m in 2019. Most of the reduction in earnings was accounted for by Emhoff’s relative fortunes. The second gentleman took a leave from the law firm DLA Piper, where he was a partner, once Harris joined the Democratic presidential ticket last August. He left the firm altogether after the election in November. The released tax returns show that Harris and Emhoff paid $621,893 in federal income tax in 2020, a tax rate of 37%. The release of the president’s tax returns further increases the gulf in behavior with Biden’s predecessor in the White House. Donald Trump shattered tradition by refusing to make his tax returns public, while the current president has now released details on his financial affairs stretching back 23 years. Before Monday’s disclosure, the White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that full transparency “should be expected by every president of the United States”. The new documents show that the Bidens donated more than $30,000 to charity – about 5% of their total income. The organisation benefitting from their largesse was the Beau Biden Foundation, a group seeking to combat child abuse set up in honor of the their son who died in 2015 from the brain cancer glioblastoma. Harris and Emhoff gave $27,000 to charity. Despite the decline in their income, the Bidens are still in an elite tax bracket that mean they would be subject to the new top income tax rate of 39.6% under the president’s American Families Plan, unveiled last month. That rate would apply to the top 1% of Americans, who earn more than $540,000 a year.
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos by Getty/APAs Rep. Matt Gaetz’s one-time “wingman” Joel Greenberg pleaded guilty to six federal charges on Monday, a plane flew above the nearby federal courthouse in Orlando with this banner attached to the tail: “Tick Tock Matt Gaetz.”Gaetz, who is reportedly under investigation for the same allegation at the center of Greenberg’s charges—sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl—wasn’t mentioned by name in the 86-page plea agreement for Greenberg. But even without Gaetz’s name, the court documents spell potential doom for the Florida congressman. A number of problematic details in Greenberg’s plea agreement could point to Gaetz—particularly if you know where to look.Chief among the issues for Gaetz is the prospect that the once 17-year-old girl in question may be cooperating with investigators.According to the plea filing, after Greenberg learned that investigators were probing his “commercial sex acts” with the minor, he reached out to the girl to coordinate a lie about why he had looked her up in the Florida DMV database.“Greenberg contacted the Minor, directly and through one of the Minor’s friends, for the purpose of asking the minor to lie and say that the reason why Greenberg looked the Minor up in the [DMV] system was because the Minor had asked him to do that, which, as Greenberg knew, was not true,” the court document says. “Greenberg also asked the Minor for help in making sure that their stories would line up, because he knew that his commercial sex acts with her were illegal.”Not only does this indicate that the former teen is cooperating with investigators, it also suggests that one of her friends—potentially another girl who helped introduce the then-minor to Greenberg and his friends—could be cooperating as well.The plea agreement also notes that the first time Greenberg met up with the then-minor—on his boat in Spring 2017—the two did not have sex. It doesn’t seem likely that prosecutors would take Greenberg at his word alone on that claim, further raising the prospect that this woman is working with investigators.If that’s true, and Greenberg’s claims are accurate, then Gaetz could be ruined.The most direct and damning of Greenberg’s allegations against his former friend came in a confession letter obtained by The Daily Beast, in which Greenberg claims he and Gaetz both paid to have sex with this teen while she was underage. Greenberg adds that he saw the acts occur “first hand” and that he paid women on behalf of Gaetz.A number of key claims in that letter seemed to align with details in the plea agreement. For one, in the letter that Greenberg wrote, citing an “anonymous tip,” the former tax collector specifies the date he learned the teen was underage: Sept. 4, 2017.“Immediately I called the congressman and warned him to stay clear of this person and informed him she was underage,” Greenberg wrote. “He was equally shocked and disturbed by this revelation.”In the plea agreement, that date appears to be confirmed.“On or about September 4, 2017 at 1:29 p.m., Greenberg ran a search for the Minor, because he had reason to believe that the Minor was under the age of 18,” the court document says.Greenberg’s timeline in the confession letter—which is currently in the hands of federal investigators—seems to be confirmed by internal computer records logging his search of the minor. If Gaetz’s legal strategy tracks with his PR strategy of discrediting Greenberg, it’ll be much tougher to dismiss what Greenberg says when it’s backed up by data points like the exact time and date Greenberg learned the girl was underrage, his phone logs, and a confession letter that claims Greenberg learned of the teen’s age and then immediately called Gaetz.If Greenberg truly did learn of the girl’s age on that date, and then immediately called Gaetz, that conversation should show up in Greenberg’s call logs—and would be very hard for Gaetz’s legal team to explain away.One thing that’s also very clear from the plea agreement is that investigators have Greenberg’s call logs. They note exact dates on which Greenberg called or texted the then-17-year-old—a total of at least 20 times between April 24 and July 30, 2017, frequently to arrange commercial sex acts.Gaetz’s own phone was reportedly seized last December, as was the phone belonging to his ex-girlfriend, another alleged participant in Greenberg’s ring who is considering striking a immunity deal of her own, according to Politico.While the plea agreement doesn’t name the congressman—or anyone else—it does say a number of people paid for sex with the then-17-year-old. If that’s accurate, others in the alleged sex ring may have their own stories to share.Judging by the plea agreement, Greenberg is not the investigation’s ultimate target. The very nature of the plea bargain indicates that federal investigators have set their sights elsewhere, and Greenberg and other people involved may be valuable witnesses.Although Greenberg pleaded guilty to six charges with a mandatory minimum sentence of 12 years, he was facing a 33-count indictment and potentially decades in jail. Greenberg, of course, isn’t an entirely trustworthy source, which Gaetz has been quick to point out in his defense.But given that Greenberg still reached a favorable deal—convincing prosecutors to toss 27 of 33 charges in exchange for his cooperation—it’s likely investigators have been able to independently corroborate valuable information.The plea agreement also notes that “others” and “other men” also had sex with the 17-year-old girl. All of those people could be facing charges, but they also could be potential witnesses against Gaetz, meaning as problematic of a witness as Greenberg may be, he may not be the only witness.Greenberg said in his confession letter that he wasn’t alone in having sex with the 17-year-old.“On more than one occasion this underage individual was involved in sexual activity with several of the other females at the house, myself and also the congressman from Florida’s panhandle,” Greenberg wrote.The disgraced tax official also wrote in his confession that the victim’s age “alarmed” him in part because many of his friends were legally exposed.“I was aware that this could cause problems for a lot of people,” he said.According to the plea filing, Greenberg also frequently “attempted to disguise” payments to women “as ‘schoolrelated’ expenses or other living expenses.” The court document lists three examples of euphemistic memo items—“school,” “ice cream,” and “food”—further specifying the latter as one of Greenberg’s payments to the minor. That payment’s memo item, date, and amount match The Daily Beast’s previous report of the transaction.But the plea agreement contradicts the confession on one key point: Greenberg is no longer denying he broke the law. In the confession letter, the former county official wrote that “there was absolutely no way a reasonable person could know this individual was not yet 18,” adding that Gaetz had been “equally shocked and disturbed” to learn the girl’s true age.In his plea, however, Greenberg admits he had “reasonable opportunity to observe” that she was underage when he had sex with her at least seven times. The plea cites months of personal interaction between Greenberg and the girl—texts, phone calls, physical encounters, and Greenberg watching her have sex with others.At a press conference after the plea hearing on Monday, Greenberg’s defense lawyer, Fritz Scheller, was asked what value Greenberg could deliver for prosecutors. In response, Scheller directed reporters back to the plea agreement.“I encourage you all to just read the plea agreement,” Scheller said. “If you read the plea agreement, that will show you what the path is.”Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
Investor Warren Buffett's company pared back its holdings in financial firms further during the first quarter and also halved its new investment in Chevron. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. provided an update on its U.S. stock holdings in a filing with regulators Monday. Many investors follow Berkshire's holdings closely because of Buffett's remarkably successful record.
Just as Americans finished filing their 2020 taxes, the president released his. President Biden shared his tax returns on Monday evening, which Press Secretary Jen Psaki pointedly noted was restoring the time-honored and "transparent" presidential tradition ignored by his predecessor, President Donald Trump. Vice President Kamala Harris' taxes were released Monday evening, as well. From the White House: "Today, the President released his 2020 federal income tax return, continuing an almost uninterrupted tradition." — Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) May 17, 2021 Notably, both Biden and Harris reported lower incomes than in 2019; they would, however, still "end up paying higher tax rates under Biden's American Family Plan based on their incomes this year," Bloomberg reports. The president's income fell to $607,336 in 2020, while Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff reported a federal adjusted gross income of $1,695,225. The big reveal came on the heels of Monday's other tax-related news, in which the Biden administration shared it would "kick-start advance payments" of the American Relief Plan's child tax credit on July 15, per Insider. Read more at Bloomberg and Insider. More stories from theweek.com7 scathingly funny cartoons about Liz Cheney's ousterThe GOP's blatant disregard for democracyCuomo's pandemic book deal was reportedly worth over $5 million
The owner of a mansion allegedly used for illegal gambling during pandemic will not face charges after police accused of theft and planting evidence York region police in Ontario said they were carrying out a ‘thorough investigation’ of the allegations. Photograph: Canadian Press/REX/Shutterstock A police investigation into an alleged underground casino operating out of a mansion north of Toronto has fallen apart after officers were accused of stealing two luxury watches and planting evidence. Police in Ontario said in September they had seized more than $10m in assets, firearms, cash and liquor as part of a months-long investigation into illegal gambling. Twenty-nine people were arrested, including the owner of the mansion, Wei Wei, who faced nine charges related to selling liquor without a permit, illegally possessing a firearm and operating a gambling establishment. But last week prosecutors quietly withdrew the charges against Wei, the Toronto Star reported. Police said the basement of the mansion — now on sale for C$9.9m (US$8.2m) – had been transformed into a clandestine casino and spa, where patrons did not observe coronavirus protocols. But after reviewing police photos and video, Wei’s defence team said they found instances of theft and evidence tampering by officers. According to Wei’s lawyer Danielle Robitaille, two luxury watches were seen in photographs and video recorded by York regional police officers in one of the mansion’s bedrooms. But in footage from the following days, the watches were no longer visible. Wei’s defence team says the police never logged the watches as evidence and have demanded their return. Over the weekend, Robitaille filed a formal complaint with the civilian police oversight body over the “serious misconduct and abuse of authority” by York regional police. During the raid, police seized a number of firearms, including an AR-15 rifle and a handgun. Robitaille alleges that police planted a gun holster in Wei’s bedroom in an apparent attempt to link the homeowner to 11 weapons found on the premises. “Mr Wei is very relieved this ordeal is over and now that the charges have been withdrawn,” Robitaille told the Toronto Star. Wei has agreed to a peace bond and is unable to enter any gaming establishments in the province. Prosecutors also dropped charges against Wei’s ex-wife and co-owner of the mansion, Xiang Yue Chen, 48. Prosecutors also stayed charges against Wei’s daughter. Wei Dong, believed to be the casino’s manager, still faces criminal charges relating to the illegal casino and the guns found in the mansion. York region police said they were carrying out a “thorough investigation” of the allegations.