Political News

New Files Detail the Threats Made Against Scott Pruitt at the EPA

Posted May 7, 2018 11:08 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency had a total of 33 threat investigations underway as of mid-March — 10 of them involving Scott Pruitt from the past six months — a security assessment released Monday shows, offering the most detailed tally yet of threats against the agency’s top official.

The memos, provided to The New York Times in response to a Freedom of Information request, are the documentation that Pruitt has pointed to in justifying the round-the-clock security he has received since taking over the agency in February 2017, as well as first-class flights he has taken, among other unusual security expenses.

The memos also show the degree to which Pruitt is not the first EPA administrator or agency employee to receive threats. The total number of threat investigations by the agency has fluctuated from 47 in fiscal year 2015 to 43 in 2016 to 50 in 2017, most of which was during the Trump administration.

The records, released Monday, include summaries of the number of threats received, as well as copies of incident reports in which agency investigators followed up. The threats were received in the form of Twitter messages, emails, postcards and phone calls, among other methods, including at least one threatening letter from an inmate, which was “forwarded back to prison officials,” according to one memo.

The inspector general’s office investigated the threats with other federal agents, often interviewing the individuals who made the threats by traveling to their homes in locations including Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Arkansas and Oklahoma. The investigators appeared to err on the side of recommending criminal cases against them, though federal prosecutors often rejected the recommendations.

That’s what happened in the case of someone who sent a “potentially threatening postcard” to Pruitt. During an interview at the home of the sender, the person “expressed regret and apologized for sending the postcard,” according to the memo, even as the person “was wearing two handguns on [his or her] waist.”

The documents redact names and other information, including gender, that could be used to identify the people who made the threats.

The U.S. attorney’s office also rejected a recommendation to prosecute a person who sent an email to Pruitt’s predecessor, Gina McCarthy, who served under President Barack Obama. The email had the subject line “Ban glyphosate or die you haggard nazi bitch! DIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIE.” Glyphosate is a herbicide.

When the sender, who was later determined to have sent threatening emails to Hillary Clinton, then a presidential candidate, and also to have “mental instabilities,” was interviewed at home, there was an assault rifle standing in the corner of the room, the memo indicated. However, the sender told investigators that he or she “would not hurt anyone” because the individual “does not leave” the house.

Another case that was declined by federal prosecutors was described as resulting from a social media post stating that the person “is not happy with some of [Pruitt’s] policies and wanted to express [his or her] displeasure,” according to the memo.

Other threats appear to have targeted Pruitt’s family, including one expressing hope that a family member “dies soon, suffering” as others watch “in horror for hours on end.” The investigation into that threat is continuing, the memo states.

Separately on Monday, the agency released a memo that had been used to justify Pruitt’s first-class flights, signed by Pasquale Perrotta, who served as Pruitt’s chief of security until late April.

“We are requesting that the EPA Administrator be strategically seated in business and or first class seating when on official travel,” said the May 2017 memo from Perrotta, which was released to The Washington Post, also as a result of a Freedom of Information request. The memo cited a “lashing out from passengers which occurs while the Administrator is seated in coach,” and went on to say that continued use of “coach seats for the Administrator would endanger his life.”

The decision to have Pruitt fly only first class as well as questions about the security threats are now being investigated.

According to the memos detailing threats against Pruitt, in some instances the inspector general’s office declined to pursue them. They included a letter that was “full of disjointed threats” but that “was not considered by the EPA OIG to contain an actual threat,” and a postcard that called Pruitt “evil incarnate” but that could not be traced to the sender.

Tension has surfaced in recent months between two divisions at the EPA charged with trying to secure agency employees. The inspector general has emphasized the growing number of threats, while the Office of Homeland Security, which is actually charged with making threat assessments, has concluded that many of the alleged threats are just private individuals sounding off in ways that are protected by the First Amendment.

“EPA Intelligence has not identified any specific credible direct threat to the EPA Administrator,” a February memo from the homeland security office said.