The firing of a staffer at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is triggering speculation in the administrative state that the move “would stiffen the resolve of Pruitt’s critics within the agency.”
A Politico report claims that Mario Caraballo, deputy associate administrator at EPA’s Office of Homeland Security, was fired because he disagreed with an assessment justifying increased security for administrator Scott Pruitt because of ongoing threats to him and his family.
Other officials at the agency, however, have spoken publicly about the need for enhanced security based on a range of threats, including death threats, aimed at Pruitt.
Patrick Sullivan, EPA’s assistant inspector general for investigations, told CNN in October 2017 that the threats against Pruitt were numerous.
“We have at least four times — four to five times the number of threats against Mr. Pruitt than we had against Ms. [Gina] McCarthy,” Sullivan said, referring to the last sitting EPA administrator in the Obama administration. “They run the variety of direct death threats — ‘I’m going to put a bullet in your brain’ — to implied threats — ‘if you don’t classify this particular chemical in this particular way, I’m going to hurt you.”
In an interview in January, Sullivan provided more details about those threats.
In an interview with E&E News, Patrick Sullivan, EPA’s assistant IG for investigations, said the watchdog opened roughly 70 threat probes in fiscal 2017, including cases and complaints related to EPA facilities and personnel. That surpassed the total of about 45 such probes into threats against EPA from fiscal 2016.
And in an interview with Bloomberg News last year, Pruitt noted that he is not in charge of security decisions.
“The level of protection is dictated by the level of threat,” Pruitt said, noting security arrangements are decided by others assessing the situation.”
In February 2018 Bloomberg reported that Henry Barnet, an official with the EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, also confirmed the threats against Pruitt.
“There were incidents where he was being approached — vulgar language, people were being somewhat aggressive towards him — and so the special agent in charge provided documentation — a memo — to me and up the chain of command requesting the administrator be placed in business- or first-class to avoid these potential issues for the safety of the administrator,'” Barnet told Bloomberg.
“The agents have to make sure he’s in a position where they can protect him,” Barnet said. “If he’s surrounded by other members of the public or it’s a threat, their job is to push him and pull him away from those threats. That’s why it is imperative to keep him away from the individuals so they can keep him safe.”
Politico, using anonymous sources, reported:
EPA removed a career staffer Tuesday who approved an internal report that undermined Administrator Scott Pruitt’s claims that he needed around-the-clock bodyguards and other expensive security protection, according to two former agency employees familiar with the situation.
“EPA Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Donna Vizian said the agency would not comment on personnel matters,” Politico reported. “But she added that today’s action ‘was based on a recommendation by the Office of Administration and Resources Management. I am not aware of any connection between the personnel matter and the document mentioned in media reports.’”
“A career EPA staffer predicted Caraballo’s dismissal would stiffen the resolve of Pruitt’s critics within the agency,” Politico reported.
“This isn’t going to frighten staff, this is going to embolden us to leak more to get these criminals out,” the anonymous source told Politico earlier this week. “They need to know we’re not intimidated and we’re going to blow the whistle on anything even borderline questionable.”
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said this week that “Scott Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him and these threat assessments are conducted within [Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance] using information collected from the [Protective Service Detail], EPA’s Office of Homeland Security, and Inspector General.”
Follow Penny Starr on Twitter