Trump: Environment chief doing ‘great job’ despite scandals

US Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is under fire for alleged ethics breaches that include a sweetheart deal on a rental property in Washington

Washington (AFP) – Donald Trump said Friday that his embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief is doing a “great job,” even as a report said the US president had resisted calls from his own chief of staff to sack him.

“Do you believe that the Fake News Media is pushing hard on a story that I am going to replace (US Attorney General) Jeff Sessions with EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, who is doing a great job but is TOTALLY under siege?” Trump tweeted.

“So much of the media is dishonest and corrupt!”

The expression of confidence in Pruitt came shortly before the Wall Street Journal reported that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly last week told Trump that Pruitt should step down following a series of negative headlines.

Pruitt has been a loyal foot soldier in carrying forward Trump’s deregulation efforts, and the president has valued his advocacy for his agenda.

The growing speculation about Pruitt’s job security stems from stories highlighting his lavish travel costs at taxpayer expense, his request for extra security, extraordinary pay raises for close aides, and a sweetheart deal he received for renting an apartment owned by the wife of a lobbyist who had business before the agency.

CNN also reported that Trump recently had floated replacing Sessions — who has earned Trump’s ire for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation last year — with the scandal-ridden Pruitt.

Aboard Air Force One on Thursday Trump told reporters he would “look at” the controversies surrounding Pruitt, but declared his confidence in the EPA chief.

“He’s been very courageous,” the president added. “It hasn’t been easy, but I think he’s done a fantastic job.”

Three Republican members of Congress have joined Democratic calls for Pruitt to step down or be fired.

Pruitt has sought to defend his actions, telling the Washington Examiner that the criticism about his rental deal and other issues was a result of Trump’s enemies in “toxic” Washington who will “resort to anything” to stop their agenda.