Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was a larger-than-life figure from a century ago – a mystic self-appointed cleric who was sort of Steve Bannon to Tsar Nicholas in the last days of Imperial Russia.
A big part of Rasputin’s legend was his apparent immunity to assassination. The Bannon analogy fails because Bannon was swiftly run out of office by President Trump.
By contrast, Scott Pruitt defied a months-long death watch before finally succumbing Thursday beneath a deluge of petty scandals.
While folklore may have enhanced Rasputin’s durability, he is said to have survived a serious stabbing in 1914, then, in 1916, a sort of trifecta of murder efforts – a poisoning, more poisoning, then three gunshots – the last one right between the eyes.
Pruitt survived multiple scandals, any one of which would have felled other cabinet members. President Ford chased Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz for a racist joke; Reagan fired Interior Secretary James Watt for another racist joke. Both jokes were deplorable, not to mention highly unfunny.
Bill Clinton’s first two Attorney General nominees withdrew after disclosures that they hired undocumented workers as nannies. And Trump cashiered his first Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Price, for using private jets for government travel.
In each case, it was one strike and you’re out. Pruitt survived a dozen such embarrassments— sending staff out to buy a favored lotion; a sweetheart rental deal from a lobbyist; seeking a high-paying private job for his wife; a paranoid fixation on security, to name a few—before President Trump’s Tweet of Death announced his demise.
Pruitt’s cartoonish cavalcade of scandal has masked two things: He’s been single-minded in rolling back Obama’s regulatory moves on energy, climate, clean water, and more. (Mitigating factor: Some contend that much of EPA’s course change could be stifled by litigation, or by a change in Congressional leadership.)
Also, his acting replacement, Andrew Wheeler, is a former lobbyist for Bob Murray, the unhinged, climate-denying coal baron. Wheeler may have the political smarts to avoid Pruitt’s self-destructive tendencies while continuing his pro-toxic policies.
Veteran industry lobbyists and other acolytes still populate the Agency’s top tier of political appointees. They leave little hope for a Dickensian change of heart in the Agency’s leadership.
So Scott Pruitt’s 17-month, Mad Monk tear ends, though the door is hardly closed on potential criminal action against him. He’s mused about a comeback in Oklahoma politics, perhaps as a last-minute entry for the Governor’s race this year, or a replacement for his mentor, Jim Inhofe who faces re-election in 2020, just days short of his 86th birthday.
So keep an eye on the Rasputin from Oklahoma.
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