Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s nominee for U.S. EPA administrator, is facing litigation over his emails.
The Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal-leaning watchdog group, is planning to file a complaint against Pruitt in state court for failing to turn over documents in response to the group’s open records requests.
CMD has filed nine requests with Pruitt’s office since January 2015, many dealing with communications between him and oil and gas companies, as well as the Republican Attorneys General Association.
Pruitt’s office has acknowledged that it is reviewing 3,000 emails that are relevant to CMD’s first request made more than two years ago, the group said.
Nick Surgey, CMD’s director of research, said Pruitt not disclosing his emails has hurt the Senate’s ability to vet the EPA nominee.
"Public servants at the EPA spend each day trying to counter corporations’ injection of dangerous chemicals into our air, water and homes, but Pruitt refuses to discuss his deep connections to the companies he would oversee and has repeatedly shown contempt for the Senate’s responsibility to their constituents to properly vet his nomination," Surgey said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma and Robert Nelon, a First Amendment and media lawyer at Oklahoma-based firm Hall Estill, are representing the group.
Lincoln Ferguson, a spokesman for the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, told E&E News in an email that it has not received a copy of the group’s lawsuit yet but plans to review the complaint once it does.
Ferguson called the litigation "political theatre" considering the attorney general’s office was about to respond to CMD’s request.
"Just last week, our office contacted the Center for Media and Democracy to notify them that release of their request was imminent," Ferguson said. "The fact that they have now filed suit despite our ongoing communications demonstrates that this is nothing more than political theatre."
He added, "The Office of Attorney General remains committed to fulfilling both the letter and spirit of the Open Records Act."
Democrats have pressed Pruitt, a vocal EPA critic, for more records from his tenure as attorney general. In response, Pruitt has told lawmakers to file open records requests. That has frustrated Democrats, leading them to boycott two committee votes last week on the EPA nominee who was then advanced by Republican senators on their own.
Democrats say the Senate should not vote on Pruitt’s nomination until his emails are released. In a joint statement today, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as well as Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Republicans have been "crowing" about emails from Democratic figures in the past, such as former secretary of State and 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
"Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Republicans aren’t outraged by secret emails; instead, they are fast-tracking Pruitt’s nomination. Mr. Pruitt shouldn’t be rewarded for a coverup — he should be held responsible for it," said the senators. "Congress and the public deserve to know what Mr. Pruitt is hiding. Until those emails are released, the Senate should not vote on Mr. Pruitt’s nomination."
There are several requests pending at the Oklahoma attorney general’s office.
In a Dec. 22, 2016, response to documents, Pruitt’s office told E&E News that the staff was working on 63 such requests.
And in correspondence from Jan. 23, Pruitt’s staff said there were a "considerable number" of requests pending at the office.
Pruitt’s confirmation vote has been delayed until at least next week as Democratic senators have stalled several of Trump’s picks from advancing (E&E Daily, Feb. 7).
Reporter Mike Soraghan contributed.