Just as news that Scott Pruitt was resigning as head of the EPA, the New York Times published the story of the most recent scandal involving the disgraced EPA chief. A senior scheduler, Madeline G. Morris, was fired last summer allegedly for questioning the practice of deleting items from the official calendar at Pruitt’s behest.
The Times goes into great detail on the chain of events leading to the story being made public, but the most pertinent information is regarding the incident itself, and the testimony related to it given before the House Oversight and Reform Committee last week.
The retroactive deletion of meetings and events from the official calendar included some that occurred during already questionable trips abroad, like the controversial visit to Rome, according to Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff, Kevin Chmielewski.
Ms. Morris, who started work as Mr. Pruitt’s scheduler in June 2017, confirmed Wednesday that she was fired after she raised objections about the deletions, which she believed were illegal, although she said that Mr. Chmielewski did not tell her his reasons for firing her. One case involved the deletion of several of Mr. Pruitt’s meetings during a spring 2017 trip to Rome, including one with a controversial cardinal then under investigation for sexual assault.
The practice occurred over a significant amount of time.
In July 2017, according to Mr. Chmielewski, Ms. Morris was instructed by him and Mr. Jackson to retroactively delete some meetings Mr. Pruitt held with lobbyists and replace them with staff meetings in the calendar, which was maintained in Microsoft Outlook. He and other people familiar with the calendar also said Ms. Morris was asked not to enter some of Mr. Pruitt’s meetings on the official calendar.
Mr. Chmielewski cited an August 2017 meeting with billionaire Denver-based businessman Philip Anschutz, a prominent donor to Republican Senate candidates and owner of an energy company regulated by the agency. Mr. Pruitt’s calendar for that day, which was publicly released, does not include the meeting.
Morris was contacted by two E.P.A. attorneys who were notified by Outlook of their own prior meetings with Pruitt having been deleted from the record, and they told her to stop doing so because it could be a violation of the law.
According to the Times, it was after that contact that Ms. Morris took note of other meetings, including the one in Rome, including one with Cardinal George Pell, “a prominent Vatican leader who was then being investigated on allegations of sexual abuse.” (He has denied the allegations.)
Pruitt’s Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson, who denied the story to the New York Times, apparently told a different story to the House Committee, admitting that he’d had references to Cardinal Pell removed from the schedule. “According to a committee aide familiar with the interview, Mr. Jackson told investigators that he ordered Cardinal Pell’s name to be removed because he considered it a ‘personal dinner’ and because no E.P.A. business was conducted,” write the Times. “About 15 people attended the dinner at which Mr. Pruitt discussed climate change, according to agency emails.”
It was after Morris objected that she was fired.
Ms. Morris pointed out the changes and the possibility that they were illegal to Mr. Chmielewski, he said, as well as to Mr. Jackson. On August 31, a few days after Ms. Morris raised these objections (and two and a half months after she had started at the agency) Ms. Morris was told that it would be her last day.
Mr. Chmielewski confirmed the sequence of events and acknowledged that by firing Ms. Morris for refusing to modify the calendars he was in effect endorsing the practice. “She refused — and I didn’t blame her — she refused to falsify the schedule,” Mr. Chmielewski said in an interview, adding, “It was me and Ryan that fired her.”
There is a lot more to the Times article, located here.
The new questions about the legality of the deletions, the questions it raised about the information that was deleted, and the firing of a staff member for objecting, certainly must have played a role in the final decision for Pruitt to at last depart.
[Featured image via screengrab]