Trump stands by Scott Pruitt after report that said the embattled EPA chief dined with a cardinal accused of child sex abuse

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump says he has confidence in EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
  • Pruitt faces mounting allegations of unethical conduct at the agency.
  • The latest reporting comes from The New York Times, which says Pruitt had dinner with a cardinal whom the EPA knew was under investigation for child sexual abuse.
  • Trump has cheered Pruitt's efforts to roll back environmental regulations.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt (2nd L) attends as U.S. President Donald Trump meets with chief executives of major U.S. and foreign automakers at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 11, 2018.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Scott Pruitt's job appears safe — at least for Friday.

President Donald Trump said he stands behind the Environmental Protection Agency administrator amid a flood of questions about the ethics of his conduct. Sitting two seats away from Pruitt at a meeting with auto industry representatives, the president was asked if he had confidence in the EPA administrator.

"Yes, I do," Trump said as Pruitt and auto executives looked on.

The latest questions about Pruitt came Thursday, when a New York Times reporter said that Pruitt dined with a Vatican official, Cardinal George Pell, last year when the EPA knew Pell was under investigation for child sexual abuse. The EPA did not list Pell on any of the public schedules released under the Freedom of Information Act, according to the Times.

Lipton tweet

Pruitt and Pell have both cast doubt on the scientific community's conclusion that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are the primary driver of climate change.

In a statement, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said Pell was "one of 12 to 15 individuals" who attended the dinner and added the "EPA had no knowledge that he was coming to the dinner."

"It is incorrect to report that any knowledge of the allegations against Cardinal Pell were raised to Administrator Pruitt's level. It is also important to note that Cardinal Pell was not charged until June 29, 2017, three weeks after the dinner with several Vatican officials took place," Wilcox said.

The information adds to a long list of ethical concerns Pruitt's conduct at the agency has raised. The EPA administrator also faces allegations of racking up excessive travel and security expenses and going against the White House's wishes to give raises to two aides, among other accusations.

Later Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she did not know whether Trump was aware of the Times' latest reporting when he said he had confidence in Pruitt.

Testifying before a House committee last month, Pruitt said, "Much of what has been targeted towards me and my team has been half-truths or at best stories that have been so twisted that they do not resemble reality."

We want millions of cars to be made in the United States: President Trump
We want millions of cars to be made in the United States: President Trump

A handful of Republican lawmakers and 170 Democrats have urged Pruitt to step down. So far, he has shown no intention of leaving, and Trump has stood by him.

The president has cheered Pruitt's efforts to reduce environmental regulations, saying the effort will help businesses grow. Last month, he defended Pruitt's spending on security and travel, as well as the $50 a night Capitol Hill condo he rented from the wife of a lobbyist.

"Scott is doing a great job!" the president wrote at the time.

Trump tweet: While Security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA. Record clean Air & Water while saving USA Billions of Dollars. Rent was about market rate, travel expenses OK. Scott is doing a great job!

— CNBC's Tom DiChristopher contributed to this report.