After President Trump’s top offshore drilling regulator was outed on cable television for giving out his mobile work number to industry connections, he faced a slew of angry texts.
Among the messages: "Drain your swamp!" "You suck." "You’re fucking up the oceans, moron.”
Thousands of pages of texts E&E News obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show Scott Angelle, head of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, flooded with a deluge of profanity and criticism after he was highlighted on "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" encouraging industry to call him as part of a "business opportunity."
The emails provide a window into the pushback and mockery hitting Trump administration officials in today’s 24/7 media and mobile phone age. Other Trump officials have faced the creation of mock Twitter accounts and protests or have also found themselves as fresh fodder for late-night TV — usually for plans to roll back Obama-era rules and their connections with the industries they regulate.
Trump has noticed the relentless ribbing by late-night TV directed at him and his administration. In an October 2017 tweet, the president accused late-night hosts of "dealing with Democrats" and wondered whether he and his supporters should get "Equal Time."
"The one-sided hatred on these shows is incredible and for me, unwatchable," he tweeted in March.
"Saturday Night Live" leaves few Trump officials untouched, such as former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who it depicted as a close pal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In other cases, Energy Secretary Rick Perry landed on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" in an eight-minute segment, "Finding Rick Perry: The Missing Secretary of Energy." That segment played off the concept that amid scandals and turnover in Trump’s executive branch, Perry’s tenure has been comparatively unscathed. The show aired as rumors circulate that Perry is planning to exit, which the Energy Department has rebutted (Energywire, May 28).
In 2017, comedian Seth Meyers also took a swipe at Perry on his show for pushing to bail out the coal and nuclear sector; being conned by Russian pranksters on the phone; and promoting Kyle Yunaska, Eric Trump’s brother-in-law, who has ascended within DOE’s Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis (Greenwire, Dec. 6, 2017).
Meyers in the past has also taken a swing at other agency officials, including some appointed by Democratic presidents. He sharply criticized former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s policies and poked fun at Obama-era Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s signature hairdo.
For Angelle, pushback from the public began to pour in once Oliver’s show put out his phone number on the segment that ran Nov. 11, 2018.
Oliver showed a video of Angelle at a 2017 oil industry event in Louisiana giving out his cellphone number. But the show’s producers did not hide his number — in fact, Oliver repeated it later.
"This is a business opportunity for you to engage with me on what you believe we ought to be about," Angelle told the industry representatives, asking that they call him, not text, because a text would create a public record. He has made similar statements at other industry events and puts the number on his business card in what he calls an effort toward transparency.
According to the emails sent or received from Angelle’s Virginia phone number for which the agency pays the bills, the BSEE director before Oliver’s show aired often texted for mundane reasons, like coordinating with his staff at BSEE headquarters in Virginia or its New Orleans office, communicating with industry officials and sending gospels to his contacts.
But once his number was made public, people sent everything from mild criticisms to wishes of violence and attempts to annoy Angelle.
"You should do your job and actually regulate the oil industry," said one of the milder messages. Others called him profane names.
BSEE redacted the phone numbers of the senders of the texts, citing their personal privacy.
It appears that Oliver’s viewers took other steps to bother him. A number of texters seem to have gotten Angelle’s number from advertisements selling game consoles or computers, while one person subscribed him to a service called "Cat Facts," including "Cats can be right-pawed or left-pawed."
BSEE spokeswoman Tiffany Gray declined to comment on the torrent of messages. But she defended Angelle’s work at the agency against Oliver’s criticisms.
"The work we are doing at BSEE benefits the entire nation and we are supporting the president’s objective of safely achieving energy dominance in order to contribute to national security, economic security, and energy security," she said in a statement to E&E News.
"The fact that Director Angelle deeply understands the industry we regulate is a good thing," she said. "He is not the first Interior Department official to have experience in the industry he oversees — senior Obama administration leadership did as well — and he is extremely qualified to lead this organization."
The HBO show spurred House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), then the panel’s ranking member, to investigate Angelle and demand his phone records (Greenwire, Nov. 19, 2018).
Angelle told E&E News in May that he continued to use the phone number and did not replace it after Oliver’s show aired (Energywire, May 23).
Gray said yesterday that Angelle’s statement is still true, and he still uses the same number.
The former Louisiana lieutenant governor has attracted significant criticism for being an unabashed supporter of the oil and gas industry, despite the mission of his agency, which was created after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster with a charge to be focused solely on ensuring safety and environmental compliance for offshore drillers.
Oliver aired a video of Angelle at an industry rally shortly after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, excoriating President Obama for putting a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Angelle has also overseen or assisted with major decisions at Interior, like relaxing some safety regulations imposed on industry after the 2010 disaster and the Trump administration’s proposal to open large swaths of the United States’ oceans to new drilling.
He told E&E News in May he’s working against a "national bias" against oil and gas (Energywire, May 23).
"I believe that through innovation and collaboration … rather than only regulation, we can help drive that safety performance. And I think we are accomplishing that."
Angelle also defended his closeness with the industry, which he refers to as "partners."
"The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act … says that the assets that are off of our coast are to be produced and developed for the benefit of the nation," he said.
"It makes only logical sense in the ZIP code that — where I’m from — that those who help you accomplish … your policy, that those people are partners," Angelle said. That doesn’t mean that the agency lets them do what they want, he added.
Reporter Hannah Northey contributed.