WASHINGTON – Several top aides to former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt are leaving the agency, less than a week after Pruitt resigned his post amid a slew of inquiries into his spending and management practices.
The departures include Jahan Wilcox, who as Pruitt's combative spokesman fiercely defended the embattled Cabinet member and found himself facing criticism for his sometimes antagonistic approach to reporters covering EPA; Lincoln Ferguson, a longtime aide and confidant who worked for Pruitt in Oklahoma and was nearly always by his side during his travels; Hayley Ford, deputy White House liaison; and Kelsi Daniels, an EPA spokeswoman.
With the exception of Daniels, who had served notice before Pruitt resigned on Thursday, all of the appointees were close allies of the former administrator. Several of the aides had already been hunting for work, according to several current EPA officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss personnel matters, given the upheaval the agency had been undergoing during Pruitt's tenure.
"I thank all those who are moving on to new endeavors for their service to EPA," the agency's chief of staff Ryan Jackson said in a statement Tuesday.
Daniels is joining the staff of Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa). One of Pruitt's top spokeswomen, Liz Bowman, joined Ernst's office a few months ago.
Most of Pruitt's top confidants had stepped down earlier this year, including EPA's director of scheduling and advance, Millan Hupp; the associate administrator for the Office of Policy, Samantha Dravis; his senior adviser, Sarah Greenwalt; and the head of his Superfund task force, Albert "Kell" Kelly. As a result, Pruitt – who kept career employees at a distance – was largely isolated in his final weeks.
According to three administration officials, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, White House and EPA staffers have engaged in discussions this week about what staffing changes might be appropriate given Pruitt's resignation. But one official emphasized that the White House had not specifically asked for anyone to step down.
Some of the aides issued statements Tuesday reiterating their support for the policies Pruitt pursued while in office.
"It's been a privilege to advance President Trump's agenda of environmental stewardship and regulatory reform," said Wilcox, who will be working as a Republican campaign consultant. "Now it's time to focus on helping Republicans in November."
Ferguson, who noted that he and his wife are expecting their first child, said he wished "Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler and the hardworking EPA staff the very best as they continue to better our nation's environment."
"It has been an honor and privilege to serve at EPA for the past year and a half," he said. "While I am proud of the important work that was accomplished under Administrator Pruitt's leadership, my wife and I look forward to returning home to welcome our first son in the great state of Oklahoma."
Wheeler, who is planning to address EPA employees on Wednesday, has already vowed to be more transparent than his predecessor.