Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, may not be in his job much longer. Over the past several weeks news reports have revealed that Pruitt installed a $43,000 phone booth at the EPA with taxpayer funds, rented a below-market condo from a lobbyist, and took an expensive trip to Morocco for a reason he still hasn’t fully explained. Normally no cabinet official could survive these scandals, and to the extent Pruitt has, it may be thanks to the intervention of White House legislative director Marc Short. The Washington Post reported Thursday that Short “remains one of the few in the administration willing to defend [Pruitt].”
Short and Pruitt are linked by more than ideology—both have close connections to the Koch political machine, which has gotten its tentacles extraordinarily deep into the Trump administration, from the middle tiers of various agencies right up to the West Wing. This week, Senate Democrats began a concerted push to get more information about these ties, which have been slowly reported out over the first year–plus of the Trump presidency.
When Pruitt faced Senate confirmation, he got a big boost from the network of political groups funded or affiliated with archconservative billionaires Charles and David Koch. A Koch Industries subsidiary spent $5.7 million lobbying in the first quarter of 2017, in part pressing the Senate to confirm Pruitt and a raft of other EPA nominees, according to a report last year from the nonprofit Public Citizen on “The Koch Government.” Twenty-three groups signed a letter to the Senate during the confirmation process urging yes votes for Pruitt, and a vast majority of those groups received support from the Kochs. This was all because Pruitt has long been a Koch man: As attorney general of Oklahoma, he coordinated with “major oil and gas producers, electric utilities and political groups” with Koch ties in order to thwart Obama-era regulations, according to a report from The New York Times last year.
In this context, Short’s strong advocacy for Pruitt now that he’s under serious fire is unsurprising: Short worked at Koch Industries as a vice president of special projects, and was also president of Freedom Partners, the main clearinghouse for Koch money in the political world. In the White House alone, there were 21 current or nominated White House officials with close ties to the Koch, according to the Public Citizen report, with Short being perhaps the most closely linked.
The same is true at the EPA beyond Pruitt as well: Samantha Dravis, the associate administrator of the EPA’s Office of Policy until she resigned earlier this month*, was the former president of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which was funded in part by the Koch brothers. Daisy Letendre, a senior EPA advisor on policy, worked at the Koch brothers’ millennial-outreach group. The EPA’s White House liaison, Charles Munoz, was a field organizer for Americans for Prosperity, a major political outfit funded by the Koch brothers. Patrick Traylor, the deputy assistant administrator at the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, had represented Koch refineries in court.