Confidential security assessments in the Environmental Protection Agency show no evidence of specific, credible, physical threats against Administrator Scott Pruitt, despite claims that an "unprecedented" number of death threats justify his outsized security spending, according to a review by Senate Democrats.
Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee wrote in a letter Tuesday that they have reviewed security assessments describing 16 purported threats against Pruitt. They include public protests, criticism of Pruitt's policies and other activities protected by the First Amendment.
The letter from Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island urged the committee's Republican chairman to begin oversight hearings into Pruitt's unusual security precautions.
The Associated Press reported Friday that EPA has spent about $3 million on Pruitt's security measures, which included flying first-class and using a full-time security detail of 20 armed officers.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said last week there had been an "unprecedented" amount of death threats against him and his family. The EPA did not immediately return a phone message asking about threats to Pruitt.
President Donald Trump defended Pruitt in a tweet Saturday night, downplaying the ethical questions swirling around his embattled EPA chief. He added that Pruitt's security spending "somewhat more" than prior EPA chiefs, but said Pruitt had received death threats "because of his bold actions at EPA."
The Democrats said they found no records describing specific, credible threats against Pruitt. An internal EPA document recounted such threat as attempts by protesters to disrupt a speech and a post card sent to Pruitt that said: "CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL!!! We are watching you."
The Democrats also obtained a Feb. 14 assessment from EPA's Office of Homeland Security Intelligence that concluded "EPA Intelligence has not identified any specific, credible, direct threat to the EPA administrator." The review said an earlier threat assessment by Pruitt's security team "does not employ sound analysis or articulate relevant 'threat specific' information appropriate to draw any resource or level of threat conclusions regarding the protection posture for the administrator."
The AP reported that Pruitt's concern with his safety came at a steep cost to taxpayers as his swollen security detail blew through overtime budgets and at times diverted officers away from investigating environmental crimes. Pruitt's 20-member full-time detail is more than three times the size of his predecessor's part-time security contingent.
Shortly after arriving in Washington, Pruitt, 49, demoted the career staff member heading his security detail and replaced him with EPA Senior Special Agent Pasquale "Nino" Perrotta, a former Secret Service agent who operates a private security company. Perrotta oversaw a rapid expansion of the EPA chief's security detail to accommodate guarding him day and night, even on family vacations and when Pruitt was home in Oklahoma.
Perrotta also signed off on new procedures that let Pruitt fly first-class on commercial airliners, with the security chief typically sitting next to him with other security staff farther back in the plane. Pruitt's premium status gave him and his security chief access to VIP airport lounges.
Pruitt has said his use of first-class airfare was initiated following unpleasant interactions with other travelers. In one incident, someone yelled profanity as he walked through the airport.