Channeling Spiro Agnew, Matt Bevin defends Scott Pruitt. It’s rich.

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, April 12, 2018

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin tweeted out a puzzler; but relax, the quandary is answered in Government Ethics 101.

Coming to the defense of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt in a series of tweets Wednesday, Bevin said: “Let me get this straight. The media is attacking EPA Commissioner, Scott Pruitt, because they say he paid too much for certain plane tickets, but too little for renting a room to sleep in? … Also they are attacking him because he pays women as much as men in the same roles.”

OK, class, do we see a distinction?

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Taxpayers get stuck with the tab for Pruitt’s deluxe travel arrangements, which the EPA says are required, even for personal trips, because of security threats.

The sweet deal on his private rent came courtesy of the wife of a lobbyist whose clients have business before the agency that Pruitt runs. Make a note: Government officials should never accept “favors,” especially from people who may want “favors” in return. Why? It looks like a kickback.

And, wouldn’t you know, The New York Times reports that a Canadian company, represented by a lobbying firm whose chairman is Pruitt’s then-landlady’s spouse, received EPA approval for an oil pipeline expansion while Pruitt was renting the condo for $50 a night. All parties insist there was no connection between the cheap rent and the pipeline OK. But it looks bad, especially since the company had been fined for a huge spill.

Bevin’s gender-equity point refers to pay raises for two aides who came with Pruitt to Washington from Oklahoma where he had been attorney general. On Wednesday afternoon, Pruitt told Fox News that he had rescinded the raises, he didn’t know who authorized them and “there will be some accountability.” So much for Bevin’s equal-pay defense.

Because both women are political appointees, the raises had to be approved by the White House, which refused. So, EPA used a provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act allowing it to hire and set salaries for up to 30 people without White House or congressional approval when experts are needed, reports The Atlantic.

A 26-year-old deputy to Pruitt who runs his scheduling and advance operation was given a $28,130 raise, boosting her pay to $114,590, which is more than her counterpart in the Obama administration made. The Washington Post reports that the aide also helped Pruitt search for new housing after he left the cheap condo, which also raises ethical concerns. Why? It would be a misuse of government resources.

The other raise — $56,765 to Pruitt’s 30-year-old general counsel — brought her pay to $164,200.

Pruitt, once a standout athlete at Lexington’s Lafayette High School, is flunking government ethics.

And Bevin gets demerits for quoting one of the crookedest politicians ever, Spiro Agnew, who resigned as vice president after pleading guilty to tax evasion. Bevin urged Pruitt to ignore the “nattering nabobs of negativism,” Agnew’s description of the media during the administration of ethical paragon Richard Nixon.

Bevin, who praised Pruitt as a “rare combination of intellect, competence and fearlessness,” may have impressed his intended audience (@POTUS). And Bevin’s assertions that environmental protection is little more than “red tape” impeding him and other “job creators” would thrill donors like the Kochs and other industrial polluters.

An objective grader, though, would have to mark down Bevin for low ethical awareness and lack of historical irony.

Lexington Herald-Leader