Chief of Staff Advised a Resistant Trump to Fire E.P.A. Chief

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Earlier, in a brief interview, Ms. Sanders said that Mr. Pruitt’s success in achieving items on the president’s agenda — including rolling back a large number of environmental regulations — may weigh heavily as a counterbalance to allegations that he misused taxpayer dollars.

“He likes the work product,” she said of Mr. Trump.

Mr. Pruitt has been dogged by a series of scandals in recent weeks, including revelations that he rented a condominium co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist for $50 per night; that he spent more than $100,000 in taxpayer-funded first-class travel, which the E.P.A. has argued was necessary because of security concerns; and that the agency sidelined or demoted at least five high-ranking agency employees who had raised questions about his spending.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on Mr. Kelly’s unheeded advice to Mr. Trump, which marked the escalation of a quiet but intense turn in the West Wing against Mr. Pruitt. Privately, many senior White House aides have become infuriated with the E.P.A. chief and exasperated with his ethical lapses, believing that it is only a matter of time before his special standing with the president wears off.

That does not seem to have happened yet.

“I think he’s done a fantastic job at E.P.A.,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Air Force One on Thursday as he returned to Washington from an event in West Virginia. “I think he’ll be fine.”

On Friday, Mr. Trump pushed back against news reports that he had considered replacing Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, with Mr. Pruitt, saying in a tweet that his E.P.A. chief “is doing a great job but is TOTALLY under siege.”

The president, who dislikes direct personal confrontations, has been known to change his mind and tone rapidly when it comes to dismissing underlings. But his aides also point out that Mr. Trump relishes doing things his own way and digging in against what he considers to be conventional thinking, even when it may mean enduring political fallout.

In interviews in recent days with conservative media outlets including Fox News and the Washington Examiner, Mr. Pruitt pushed back hard against accusations that his actions were unethical. In an interview with Fox News, he described his living arrangements as an “Airbnb situation,” and said E.P.A.’s ethics office had signed off on it.

The ethics office ruled that Mr. Pruitt’s condo rental did not violate the agency’s ethics rules. A later memo released this week said the office did not have all the facts about the rental when it made its initial ruling, including reports that Mr. Pruitt’s daughter, McKenna Pruitt, lived at the apartment when she was a White House intern.

Asked by Fox whether renting a room from a Washington lobbyist violated Mr. Trump’s credo of draining the swamp, Mr. Pruitt replied, “I don’t even think that’s even remotely fair to ask that question.”

Mr. Trump, an avid Fox viewer who puts great stock in TV performances, did not appear to think much of Mr. Pruitt’s appearance. Asked what he thought about it on Thursday on Air Force One, he paused, smiled wryly, and said: “It’s an interesting interview.”

But conservatives have rallied around Mr. Pruitt. The Wall Street Journal editorial page said the E.P.A. chief was being hounded because of his success in dismantling Obama-era environmental standards. Other conservative groups have accused the media of campaigning for Mr. Pruitt’s ouster.

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