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John Kelly Signed Off on a ‘Purge’ of Scott Pruitt Loyalists From EPA

The Daily Beast logo The Daily Beast 7/23/2018 By Lachlan Markay asawin.suebsaeng@thedailybeast.com (Asawin Suebsaeng)
a man wearing a suit and tie: Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast © Provided by The Daily Beast Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

The Trump White House has moved quickly to force out a trio of staffers loyal to former, scandal-plagued Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.

One administration source described it as a “purge” of Pruitt loyalists that was orchestrated by a White House staff that had, for months, clashed with the ex-administrator and his team over ethical lapses and lavish personal spending and travel.

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Chief of Staff John Kelly gave the greenlight to the efforts to remove the three officials after Pruitt’s resignation from the EPA earlier this month. Kelly, along with other senior aides to President Donald Trump, campaigned for months for Pruitt’s firing. As The Daily Beast reported in early April, Kelly had a tense phone call with Pruitt, telling the now former EPA chief that the torrent of scandals needed to stop.

At least one of the axed Pruitt aides, spokesman Lincoln Ferguson, had planned to leave the EPA prior to Pruitt’s departure. But the White House Presidential Personnel Office, overseen by senior Trump aide Johnny DeStefano, expedited his resignation.

Senior EPA communications adviser Jahan Wilcox, who frequently clashed with the press and served as a top enforcer for his chronically-embattled former boss, was also asked to tender his resignation at PPO’s request. Hayley Ford, the EPA’s deputy White House liaison, was also pushed out earlier this month following Pruitt’s ouster.

In their time working at Pruitt’s side, Ford and Wilcox had gained a reputation within the West Wing as people who absolutely “had to go” once Pruitt finally left the Trump administration, a White House source said. Another official familiar with the post-Pruitt “purge” added that Ford had been “escorted out” of the federal agency after she was axed.

There is often staff turnover at agencies when new leadership takes over. But the changes at the EPA were rooted in long-simmering tensions inside the administration. Under Pruitt, the EPA clashed repeatedly with the White House, with a number of agency officials resisting official White House requests, such as demands that Pruitt turn over copies of official travel records amid a probe into the administrator’s spending on chartered and first class airfare.

Officials at both the White House and the EPA hope to move past an era racked by controversy, press scrutiny, and numerous investigations into the conduct of the agency’s chief. The removal of the three EPA officials was seen by one source as an effort to infuse new blood into the agency now led by acting administrator Andrew Wheeler.

White House spokespeople did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The EPA declined comment on this story.

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