Staining the swamp
Donald Trump tried to hold on to regulation-shredding EPA chief Scott Pruitt as long as he could — far longer than top White House aides thought was wise — but the belching smoke of never-ending scandals just wouldn't stop.
Trump announced on Twitter Thursday that Pruitt has resigned. “Within the agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this,” he said. Trump didn’t talk about the other stuff, on Twitter or to reporters on Air Force One, but allowed: "I think Scott felt that he was a distraction.”
For what? Here’s a very incomplete list: Flying first-class at taxpayer expense often and with dubious justification. Using EPA aides and his oversized security detail for personal tasks, including apartment-hunting, trying to buy a used Trump hotel mattress, driving him around to find a favorite body lotion and trying to line up jobs for his wife. Calling Chick-fil-A to try to get a franchise for his wife. A bargain condo rental from a lobbyist.
EPA staffers who questioned his actions were purged. Just before his resignation, The New York Times reported that an aide who raised legal objections about retroactive deletions of potentially embarrassing meetings from his calendar was fired.
In his resignation letter, Pruitt bemoaned “the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family” and said serving Trump — who is president “because of God’s providence” — was a “blessing.” While Pruitt’s reign is over, more than a dozen investigations into his alleged abuses of office will continue.
Crowding the exits
Pruitt is the latest of many departures from the Trump administration — here's Newsday's list. Many are gone because they fell out of favor, but Pruitt isn't the first to leave under a cloud. That group includes the first national security adviser, Michael Flynn (lied about Russia contacts), Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price (excessive use of private flights at government expense), Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin (accused of fudging justification for wife's travel expenses, but says he was forced out over a policy clash) and staff secretary Rob Porter (accused of abusing ex-wives).
Trump's first choice to replace Shulkin, White House physician Ronny Jackson, bowed out over professional misconduct allegations.
Not much of a climate change
The new boss at the EPA, at least temporarily, will be Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who is on the same page as Trump in wanting to undo environmental regulations on business. He was formerly a chief of staff to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a top skeptic on Capitol Hill of the scientific consensus on climate change.
Before Wheeler's confirmation as EPA's No. 2 official in April, he helped coal mogul Robert E. Murray who was seeking administration backing for a plan for extraordinary federal intervention to shore up that industry, Bloomberg News reported. Trump’s National Security Council is now debating whether the government should invoke wartime powers to stem closures of coal and nuclear power plants. Among the potential measures would be forcing grid operators to buy electricity from the stations.
Immigration: Retreat and attack
The Trump administration said it will meet court deadlines for reuniting migrant families separated at the border. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar revealed the number of children affected by the now-abandoned Trump policy is nearly 3,000 — a jump from the previously acknowledged 2,047.
To speed up the reunification process, the agency will be conducting DNA tests by taking a cheek swab of every child before matching him or her with a parent.
On another front in the immigration battles, a federal judge refused Thursday to block California’s “sanctuary law” that allows local jurisdictions to restrict local law enforcement cooperation with ICE agents. However, the judge rejected part of a state law that punishes private employers who allow agents into the workplace.
On Twitter, Trump kept up his drumbeat against “our insane immigration laws” — demanding an end to due process and immediate expulsion “when people, with or without children, enter our Country.” Said Trump: “They must leave, just as they would if they were standing on your front lawn.”
Trump said he’s still planning to announce his Supreme Court pick on Monday night: “I think I have it down to four people and I think of the four people, I have it down to three or two.”
He didn’t name the names, but several reports said the finalists were Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge — both former law clerks to retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy — along with Amy Coney Barrett. All are currently Court of Appeals judges.
Along with their records, personal chemistry with Trump could be a factor, according to The Wall Street Journal, as well as with his assessment of how the nomination will play to conservatives.
“He’s going to make sure there’s a ‘wow’ factor right out of the gate, and he’s going to make sure that the movement is going to rally around whoever it is — or at least not shoot at whoever it is,” a source told the Journal. See a Q&A by Newsday's Yancey Roy on the process and the prospects for Trump's choice to win approval and bring change to the court.
The Fox News sexual harassment scandals of recent years shook the network, but Trump remains unmoved. The White House Thursday made official the hiring of former Fox executive Bill Shine as his deputy chief of staff for communications.
Trump went ahead despite qualms from within the conservative media world, BuzzFeed reports. Shine, who grew up in Farmingville, was ousted from Fox News in May 2017 amid accusations he helped cover up abuses of women by powerful men, including the late network chairman Roger Ailes.
“This is someone who is highly knowledgeable of women being cycled through for horrible and degrading behavior by someone who was an absolute monster,” a current senior Fox News executive told BuzzFeed.
But Trump took Ailes aboard as a campaign adviser after Fox cut him loose in 2016. The president also spoke up for Fox host Bill O’Reilly as “a good person” after news emerged of tens of millions of dollars in sexual harassment payouts, leading to O’Reilly’s dismissal.
What else is happening:
- Protesters have won permission from London’s City Hall to fly a 20-foot blimp depicting Trump as a giant orange baby over Parliament during the U.S. president's visit to Britain July 13. (See it here.)
- Majorities of Canadians tell pollsters they are likely to boycott U.S. goods and retailers and avoid travel to the United States to retaliate for U.S. tariffs. They survey was conducted for the CTV television network and The Globe and Mail newspaper of Toronto.
- Michael Cohen, the former Trump attorney who has hinted he might offer cooperation to the federal prosecutors investigating him, has hired Washington lawyer Lanny Davis, who was an aide to former President Bill Clinton.
- Rudy Giuliani, the current Trump attorney, had said he expected to have a decision on July 4 whether the president would sit down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller's team. When the day arrived, Giuliani told CBS News, he had "no decision" to announce.
- A former law firm of Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, has failed to make a promised $452,000 payment to the IRS for back taxes, according to a court filing by the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
- Trump told a Montana rally that the woman who climbed the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July was a "clown" and that cops should have waited with "a net" instead of scaling the monument to rescue the protester.
- Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida has asked the Labor Department for permission to hire 40 temporary foreign workers as waiters and waitresses, BuzzFeed reported.