Washington • Scott Pruitt: You can do better than this.
On Monday, The Washington Post broke the news that a government aide to Pruitt, President Trump’s EPA administrator, contacted the Trump International Hotel in Washington in hopes of snagging a used Trump Home Luxury Plush Euro Pillow Top mattress, on which Pruitt could rest his weary body after long days ignoring environmental protections.
On Tuesday, the same Post trio — Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Josh Dawsey — reported that Pruitt also had a government staffer arrange a phone call with Chick-fil-A executives to discuss “a potential business opportunity” — having Pruitt’s wife run a franchise of the fast-food joint.
This is a tragic case of low self-esteem.
Pruitt could be shaking down corporate polluters for tens of millions of dollars — and he’s trying to use his influence to get a deal on a used Trump mattress that costs $1,750 new? He could get so many sweetheart deals from those he regulates that his wife would never have to work again — and he’s using pull so she can sell $3.85 chicken sandwiches?
Pruitt’s problem isn’t that he’s corrupt; it’s that he isn’t corrupt enough. He could be thrashing with the big gators in the swamp, but he’s lounging with larvae in a mud puddle. Pruitt should abandon his penny-ante corruption and get rich the way others do in Trump’s Washington.
Why get in trouble for renting a condo for a below-market $50 per night when, like Jared Kushner, you could have a $120 million investment that helps your family business from a group with ties to Qatar’s government while you oversee Middle East policy?
Pruitt is being raked over the coals for wasting more than $60,000 on military and charter flights and for flying first-class (coach is too dangerous!). Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump stands to gain tens of millions from the trademarks issued to her businesses by China while her father negotiates with that country.
Poor Pruitt gets heat for a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in his office (although, I admit, that one was quite creative). But Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, invites financial executives to the White House, reportedly dangles a job in front of one of them, and his family business gets $500 million in loans.
Pruitt is being investigated for giving raises of $66,000 and $48,000 to aides who are pals of his, one of whom resigned on Wednesday. The president, by contrast, is making untold millions for the Trump Organization from interest groups and foreign governments that are either funneling business to or otherwise boosting Trump properties in hopes of winning favor with the president.
Pruitt may be afraid that, if he were to do what Trump and his kin do, it might be “illegal,” to use the archaic term. This may also be why Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson ($31,000 dining set), Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ($139,000 office doors) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (asked for a military charter for his European honeymoon) have not exploited the full moneymaking potential of their jobs.
But they should take heart from the example of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who took in $2.35 million from AT&T, Novartis, a company tied to a Russian oligarch and others — and gave them almost nothing of value in return.
Even North Korea knows how to play the game. A CIA analysis, reported last week by NBC News, found that North Korea has no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons — but “Kim Jong Un may consider offering to open a Western hamburger franchise in Pyongyang as a show of goodwill.”
That Kim is willing to put patties on the table shows he understands Trump. Certainly, Trump won’t accept one burger joint in lieu of denuclearization. But what if Kim would, say, agree to open a Trump International Hotel in Pyongyang? In exchange, Trump would probably allow North Korea to keep its nuclear weapons as long as it promises to use them only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. — except in emergencies.
Pruitt, to get the riches he deserves, needs to be upfront about his price and hang out the proverbial shingle.
When you consider Pruitt’s agency fined polluters some $5 billion last year, and that environmental compliance costs are in the hundreds of billions, Pruitt could get a lot more from them than a Chick-fil-A franchise.
Of course, such behavior could land him in prison — but Trump’s pardon will come through even before the Trump Home Luxury Plush Euro Pillow Top mattress arrives in Pruitt’s cell.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.