Live Briefing: Scott Pruitt on Capitol Hill: Round 3 in Progress


“I’m being asked, really constantly asked, to comment on housing and security and travel,” she said. “Instead of seeing articles about efforts to return your agency to its core mission, I’m reading articles about your interactions with the industries that you regulate. Some of this undoubtedly is a result of the ‘gotcha’ age, but I do think there are legitimate questions that need to be answered.’

Here’s what to watch for as Mr. Pruitt testifies.

What the Democrats are likely to ask

Democrats intend, as they did last month, to throw the kitchen sink at Mr. Pruitt. And they have plenty to ask about.

In the three weeks since Mr. Pruitt testified before the two House committees, the public has learned that the administrator has allowed lobbyists and Washington power brokers to arrange his foreign travel, that Mr. Pruitt’s aggressive effort to shroud his meetings and speaking engagements in secrecy was done primarily to avoid uncomfortable and unexpected questions and not out of a concern for security as his staff had claimed, and that E.P.A. aides took steps to conceal a dinner Mr. Pruitt held in Rome with Cardinal George Pell last year after they learned that the cardinal had been charged with sexual abuse.

That’s in addition to a raft of other longstanding questions about Mr. Pruitt’s first-class travel and the need for a 24-hour security detail of at least 20 people that has cost taxpayers more than $3 million so far.

Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, the top Democrat on the panel, said Wednesday that he had asked the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, to investigate whether the E.P.A. acted improperly when it appeared to mock Democrats on Twitter after the Senate voted to confirm the agency’s second-in-command, Andrew Wheeler.

The tweet, sent from the agency’s official account on April 13, said, “The Senate does its duty: Andrew Wheeler confirmed by Senate as deputy administrator of @EPA. The Democrats couldn’t block the confirmation of environmental policy expert and former EPA staffer under both a Republican and a Democrat president.” Mr. Udall asked the accountability office to issue a legal opinion on whether the tweet violated the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits the use of federal funds for publicity or propaganda.

“This communication did nothing to further the public’s understanding of the environment or public health — and as an act of pure partisan taunting, the case is clear for why it represents a violation of federal law,” Mr. Udall said in a statement, adding, “We can add this investigation to the ever-expanding list of Scott Pruitt’s ethical transgressions.”

What Republicans are expected to talk about

This one is tougher. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, chairwoman of the appropriations committee’s environment panel, called for Mr. Pruitt to testify at a time when Republican support for Mr. Pruitt appeared to be on a downswing. Since then, however, Republicans have tamped down criticism of the E.P.A. chief.

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The Behavior That Put Scott Pruitt at the Center of Federal Inquiries

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency faces nearly a dozen federal inquiries into his practices. We break down the accusations by category.



OPEN Graphic


One notable exception is Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Mr. Grassley on Tuesday threatened to be the first Republican to call on Mr. Pruitt to resign, citing his frustration with the administrator over waivers the E.P.A. has given to small fuel refineries exempting them from a federal ethanol mandate on the nation’s gasoline. While Mr. Grassley is not a member of the committee that Mr. Pruitt will face, his concerns are shared by other corn-state Republicans and could become an issue at the hearing.

If past is prologue, though, Mr. Pruitt is likely to hear Republicans express concerns about his stewardship of E.P.A. in their opening statements but mostly draw attention to the regulatory rollbacks that they, and many of their constituents, support.

What Pruitt is expected to say

Last time around, Mr. Pruitt repeatedly shifted blame to members of his staff for the spending and ethical issues dogging him.

He said his chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, had been solely responsible for giving $72,000 in raises to two aides who previously worked with Mr. Pruitt in Oklahoma. He said career staff members had signed off on spending $43,000 to install a secure phone booth, an expense that was ultimately found to violate federal law. And he said his security detail had insisted he fly first class for his own protection.

In one exchange with Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Mr. Pruitt had to be asked three times if he was the E.P.A. administrator before answering in the affirmative, but avoided answering whether the buck stopped with him.

“That’s not a yes or no answer,” Mr. Pruitt replied then. It’s a safe bet Mr. Pruitt will continue to tread as carefully Wednesday, and the E.P.A. spokesman, Jahan Wilcox, said in a statement that Mr. Pruitt remained focused on policy.

“From advocating to leave the Paris Accord, working to repeal Obama’s Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States, declaring a war on lead and cleaning up toxic Superfund sites, Administrator Pruitt is focused on advancing President Trump’s agenda of regulatory certainty and environmental stewardship,” Mr. Wilcox said.

Where the president stands

President Trump has remained steadfast in his support for Mr. Pruitt, despite the arguments of several White House aides — including John F. Kelly, the president’s chief of staff — that the administrator should be fired. Asked last week if he still had confidence in Mr. Pruitt, the president replied, “I do.”

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Malaysia Sidelines Officials Accused of Ignoring Graft


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian officials accused of covering up a large corruption scandal stepped down or were placed on leave Monday as Malaysia’s leadership continued to be upended by the defeat of the governing coalition last week.

Mahathir Mohamad, the new prime minister, said Monday afternoon that the attorney general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, had been placed on leave.

Mr. Apandi, who was named attorney general three years ago, cleared the previous prime minister, Najib Razak, of any wrongdoing in connection with the misappropriation of billions of dollars from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a government fund known as 1MDB.

He was among the most prominent officials supporting Mr. Najib’s assertion of innocence, and he may now face an investigation for what critics contend was a cover-up.

Mr. Apandi showed up for work on Monday even though Mr. Mahathir said last week that the attorney general had been removed from office. He acknowledged in a text message that he had gone to work but declined to comment on his situation.

Mohammad Irwan Serigar bin Abdullah, secretary general of the Malaysian Treasury and chairman of 1MDB, was also relieved of his duties on Monday.

Mr. Mahathir also said he hoped that a new leader of Malaysia’s anti-corruption commission would be announced by Tuesday. The previous commission chief, Dzulkifli Ahmad, offered his resignation on Monday, according to reports in Malaysian news outlets. He did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Last year, Mr. Dzulkifli said the anticorruption commission would not reopen an investigation into 1MDB, even after a United States Justice Department complaint outlined how huge sums were diverted from the fund and spent by associates of former Prime Minister Najib Razak. An assets-seizure lawsuit filed by the Justice Department said that $731 million had been deposited into Mr. Najib’s accounts.

On Saturday, the government announced that Mr. Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, were barred from leaving the country amid concerns that they were planning to leave for Indonesia. On Monday, a bodyguard at their home said they remained inside, though the number of visitors as well as staff members had dwindled.

Nurul Izzah Anwar, Mr. Anwar’s daughter and a member of Parliament, said that the board was expected to rule that there had been a miscarriage of justice and that her father was innocent.

The king’s pardon would allow Mr. Anwar to participate in politics again, lifting a five-year ban on political activity that he would have faced based on his release under normal circumstances.

Mr. Anwar is expected to replace the 92-year-old Mr. Mahathir as prime minister at some point. Mr. Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, is the deputy prime minister and has long said that her goal was to win his freedom.

The pardon process can take many months. An immediate pardon, which was agreed on last week in meetings between the king, Mr. Mahathir and Ms. Wan Azizah, according to the new prime minister, would accelerate the potential timetable for Mr. Anwar to take over from Mr. Mahathir.

But there are still some hurdles. To become prime minister, Mr. Anwar must win a seat in Parliament. And for a new election to be held, someone must leave office to create a vacancy.

Ms. Nurul Izzah said that there was no rivalry between the two leaders, who were once allies and then foes before becoming allies again.

“He has given his unequivocal support to the prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, and the reform agenda,” she said of Mr. Anwar.

Sharon Tan contributed reporting.

Giuliani May Have Exposed Trump to New Legal and Political Perils


By the end of the day, the president and his advisers had done little to clarify the confusion that Mr. Giuliani had set in motion a night earlier.

Mr. Giuliani did not consult every member of the president’s legal team, or the network of lawyers around Washington whose clients have been entangled in Mr. Trump’s legal disputes, according to several people close to the team. Emmet T. Flood, a lawyer hired by Mr. Trump on Wednesday, was not involved in Mr. Giuliani’s plans to reveal the payments to Mr. Cohen during an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, one of the people said.

The abrupt disclosure — which even caught Mr. Hannity, a confidant of the president’s, by surprise — set off a flurry of calls between Mr. Trump’s lawyers as they sought to determine whether Mr. Giuliani meant to reveal the president’s reimbursement. Witnesses and lawyers around Washington scoured transcripts, watched television clips and called each other in an effort to grasp the consequences of what Mr. Giuliani had said.

The president’s other lawyers ultimately determined that Mr. Giuliani had consulted with Mr. Trump, people close to them said, but were left speechless about why he decided to make the disclosure in such a high-profile way and without any strategy to handle the fallout.

Mr. Giuliani recognized the situation was problematic, two people close to him said, because Mr. Trump had previously said on Air Force One that he was unaware of the hush payments to Stephanie Clifford, the actress who performs as Stormy Daniels. However, Mr. Trump and his aides see lying to or misleading the news media as far less troublesome than lying to investigators, they said.

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Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, recently joined Mr. Trump’s legal team.

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Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Even some of the president’s advisers said they were skeptical of Mr. Giuliani’s statements that Mr. Cohen entered into a settlement, made payments to a pornographic film actress and was reimbursed by the president all without Mr. Trump’s knowing why.

Mr. Giuliani’s disclosure is a sign of how Mr. Trump’s reshuffled legal team — which now includes a highly paid Washington lawyer, a famous former mayor, a constitutional lawyer who specializes in religious cases and former federal prosecutors — will function in the coming weeks as they sort out who takes the lead on representing the president.

Mr. Giuliani has said he is the lead lawyer dealing with the special counsel’s investigation in Washington. But his statements on Wednesday night related to the continuing investigation in New York that is examining the conduct of Mr. Cohen. People close to the president are concerned that Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani may create more problems for themselves if they consult only with each other and leave out the other lawyers who may know more about the nuances of the cases.

Mr. Trump faces a two-front battle with the Justice Department: one investigation in New York into Mr. Cohen and the special counsel investigation in Washington.

Whoever runs the president’s legal defenses will almost certainly adopt a more aggressive strategy than the previous team, which was led by the Washington lawyers John Dowd and Ty Cobb.

Despite the president’s desire to take on the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and the Justice Department, Mr. Dowd and Mr. Cobb persuaded Mr. Trump to buy into their strategy of cooperation. The more helpful the president was, Mr. Dowd and Mr. Cobb told him last year, the more likely the investigation would conclude by year’s end.

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Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, paid $130,000 in hush money to Ms. Clifford, who says she had an affair with Mr. Trump.

Credit
Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Instead, the investigation has intensified, and the president has concluded that approach was a mistake, according to people close to him. Convinced that the investigation is a growing threat to his presidency, he has resorted to his initial inclination to fight.

Mr. Trump appears to hope that Mr. Giuliani, a like-minded political street fighter from New York, will aid his combative approach. Mr. Giuliani’s comments on Wednesday and Thursday were an attempt to do just that.

His aggression carried risks. Besides revealing that the president had reimbursed Mr. Cohen, Mr. Giuliani appeared to admit that the payment to Ms. Clifford just before Election Day in 2016 was made because of concerns about the coming vote. That could be used to argue that it was an illegal campaign contribution.

“Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the, you know, last debate with Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Giuliani said on the Fox News program “Fox & Friends.” “Cohen didn’t even ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.”

Violating campaign finance laws can be serious. John Edwards, a former Democratic senator and presidential hopeful, was charged with corruption for his role in trying to hide details of his affair with a videographer during his 2008 bid for the White House. Mr. Edwards’s trial ended in an acquittal on one count with the jury unable to reach a verdict on five others.

Mr. Giuliani’s comments also raised fresh questions about the president’s relationship with Mr. Cohen. As Mr. Giuliani told it, Mr. Cohen entered into a legal agreement with Ms. Clifford and paid her without Mr. Trump’s knowledge. Mr. Giuliani described that as commonplace, saying he performed similar services for his own clients. But legal ethics experts said such an arrangement was highly unusual and would only expose Mr. Cohen to new questions.

The Trump Team’s Conflicting Statements About the Payment to Stormy Daniels

From complete denial to acknowledging involvement, what President Trump and his lawyers said about the $130,000 paid to the pornographic film actress.


Lawyers are required to keep their clients fully informed of their activities and are generally prohibited from advancing money to or on behalf of their clients, said Deborah L. Rhode, a scholar on legal ethics at Stanford Law School. “This is a guy who says he’ll take a bullet for the president,” she said. “And what they’re giving him is the legal ethics equivalent of a bullet.”

“Giuliani thinks he’s serving President Trump’s interest,” she said. “President Trump’s interest is not the same as Michael Cohen’s interest.”

In his tweets on Thursday, Mr. Trump contradicted his earlier statements that he knew of no payment to Ms. Clifford. Mr. Trump said he paid a monthly retainer to Mr. Cohen and suggested that the payment to the actress could not be considered a campaign contribution.

Government watchdog groups warned that willfully violating the financial disclosure laws can be punished by a fine of up to $50,000 and a year in prison. Although federal officials who lie on the forms are also typically charged with other, more serious offenses such as bribery or fraud, more than 20 officials or former officials have been charged in the past 12 years with making false statements to federal officials, a felony offense. An Environmental Protection Agency official who failed to report a source of income on the form, for instance, was convicted and sentenced to probation.

“Mr. Giuliani did his client no favors,” said Norman L. Eisen, the chairman of the good-government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Mr. Cohen had worked for Mr. Trump for a decade and has said he would “take a bullet” for him. Mr. Trump, however, treated Mr. Cohen poorly over the years, people familiar with their relationship have said.

Ms. Clifford is suing Mr. Cohen to try to be released from the nondisclosure agreement. And Mr. Cohen is under federal investigation into possible bank fraud, raising concerns in the president’s inner circle that Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer will cooperate with the government. Federal agents raided Mr. Cohen’s office and home last month and seized documents that included information about payments to Ms. Clifford.

Mr. Cohen recently invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in Ms. Clifford’s lawsuit.

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News Analysis: For Many, Life in Trump’s Orbit Ends in a Crash Landing


Mr. Trump expressed outrage on Thursday about the toll exacted on some people close to him. Dr. Jackson, the White House physician and rear admiral who withdrew as nominee for secretary of Veterans Affairs after accusations of drinking on official trips and badgering his staff, is “an incredible man” whom Democrats were “trying to destroy,” Mr. Trump said on “Fox & Friends.”

The president attributed it to the toxic atmosphere of the capital, saying he warned Dr. Jackson. “I did say welcome to Washington,” he said. “Welcome to the swamp. Welcome to the world of politics.”

Mr. Trump likewise said that Mr. Cohen, his longtime lawyer who paid $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film actress known as Stormy Daniels, before the 2016 election and now faces a federal investigation, is “a great guy” who “did absolutely nothing wrong” in that matter.

But as he has with other advisers who have gotten in trouble, the president also distanced himself, suggesting that Mr. Cohen was in trouble for business dealings separate from any legal representation he had done for Mr. Trump. “I’m not involved, and I’ve been told I’m not involved,” he said.

Over many decades, people who have entered Mr. Trump’s circle have discovered that they are bit actors in a movie he sees himself starring in.

“People are not people to him, they are instruments of his ego. And when they serve his ego, they survive, and when they don’t, they pass into the night,” said Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter on “The Art of the Deal,” Mr. Trump’s first book. “Ultimately, the fate of anyone who casts their lot with Trump is — you are passing through. And I just can’t think of anybody for whom it is not true.”

Jack O’Donnell, the former president of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, and a vocal critic of his former boss, said many people have cycled through his world remarkably quickly without leaving much of an impression on Mr. Trump.

Interactive Graphic

Hired and Fired: the Unprecedented Turnover of the Trump Administration

Since President Trump’s inauguration, staffers of the White House and federal agencies have left in firings and resignations, one after the other.



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“This is an individual who completely lacks compassion and empathy, and therefore the recycling of people, people crashing and burning, it means nothing to him,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “He might put on a public frown for a day because he’s upset that, in his mind, the admiral got railroaded out. But Trump couldn’t care less about the admiral.”

The president tapped Dr. Jackson because he had come to like him and was impressed by him even though he had little management experience to run the government’s second-largest department. Shortly after his selection, several senior White House officials warned Dr. Jackson that it was a bad idea and that it was likely to end poorly.

But Mr. Trump is a transactional person, and many have made transactional decisions to work for him understanding the risks. For some, it is a sense of public service and duty to country. For others, it is a calculation that the return on investment will be worth it. Indeed, Mr. Cohen has attracted enormous attention over the years as he built business ties because of his affiliation with Mr. Trump.

Some who have come and gone managed to benefit from the experience in their own way despite the ordeal. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary who was mocked on “Saturday Night Live” and maligned by the president and the news media, nonetheless has received lucrative speaking contracts and has a book coming out in July. Mr. Tillerson and Gary D. Cohn, the former national economics adviser, lost power struggles, but both still have hundreds of millions of dollars to console themselves, and friends say no one should feel sorry for them.

Still, former advisers like Michael T. Flynn, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have all been charged with or pleaded guilty to crimes and are looking at prison time.

Others worry they may face the same fate. Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency whose spending and security practices were spotlighted Thursday at a contentious House hearing, may yet lose his job.

Other presidents have seen associates get caught up in investigations or scandals that were highlighted or magnified because of their closeness. Plenty of advisers, aides and friends of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton met untimely ends to their political careers or even went to prison, and critics of both presidents often said they did not seem to care about the consequences to those around them.

The closer someone gets to a president, the harsher the spotlight can be. Many who seek the power and stature of the White House somehow convince themselves that their own foibles or misdeeds will not be exposed, only to learn otherwise, or become intoxicated by their new positions of influence and exercise poor judgment. And Washington can be especially unforgiving. “Here, ruining people is considered sport,” Vincent W. Foster Jr., a longtime Clinton friend and aide, wrote before killing himself in 1993.

Several people who have been close to Mr. Trump over the years say that he is exceptionally good at rationalizing his own behavior to himself, and compartmentalizing the types of personal catastrophes that would leave other people emotionally ravaged.

“I think that loyalty has always been a one-way street with Trump, and he doesn’t really care about the wreckages he engenders as long as he comes out where he wants to be,” said Tim O’Brien, a biographer who was sued by Mr. Trump over a book reporting that Mr. Trump had inflated his net worth.

“Ronny Jackson’s reputation would never have been in play had the president not put him up for this job,” Mr. O’Brien said, adding that in Mr. Trump’s mind, the issue is, “Ronny was great, but Washington is a snake pit.”

Michael D’Antonio, another Trump biographer, said, “Anyone who engages with the president and, before that, with him as a business person, had to practice self-defense even if they were his allies.”

“All that matters to him,” he added, “is what you say and do in the moment in front of him.”

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Scott Pruitt, on Capitol Hill, Deflects Blame for Ethical Lapses


While Democrats, who have called for his resignation, sought to force Mr. Pruitt to accept culpability for a variety of ethical missteps, he denied knowledge of or responsibility for the actions in question. Republicans, after briefly chastising Mr. Pruitt in their opening remarks, asked friendly questions that appeared calculated to allow him to talk about his policy proposals.

As reports about Mr. Pruitt have continued to increase, some White House staff members have urged Mr. Trump to fire the E.P.A. chief. Some Republican leaders have called for his resignation, and many in Mr. Pruitt’s own party have called for investigations into his actions. But analysts who watched his performance on Thursday said he did well.

Representative Ken Calvert, Republican of California and chairman of the appropriations subcommittee where Mr. Pruitt testified in the afternoon, called the administrator’s appearance “very professional.”

Asked if Mr. Pruitt should resign he said, “No.”

Ultimately, of course, the only opinion about Mr. Pruitt’s fate that matters is the president’s.

“I think his effort will be well received by the president,” Mr. Maisano said. He has more explaining to do, but it was a good effort to mend fences. There were no lethal blows.”

Mr. Pruitt is now the subject of 10 federal investigations, including questions about his office’s illegal purchase of a secure phone booth, his condominium rental agreement with the wife of an energy lobbyist, and accusations that he demoted or sidelined E.P.A. employees who questioned his actions.

Committee Democrats queried him sharply about the reports of his ethical lapses and pressed Mr. Pruitt on his rollbacks of environmental rules, in particular, a new policy, proposed this week, that would limit the E.P.A.’s use of scientific research in crafting new health and environmental rules. Scientists have deplored the proposed rule, saying that it would significantly limit the agency’s use of rigorous science.

“Administrator Pruitt has brought secrecy, conflicts of interest and scandal to the E.P.A.,” said Representative Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where Mr. Pruitt testified Thursday morning. “You are unfit to hold public office and undeserving of the public trust,” he said. “Every indication we have is you really should resign.”

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Mr. Pruitt at the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior and E.P.A., his second appearance before House members on Thursday.

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Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon and the chairman of the House Energy committee, offered light criticism before moving on to praising Mr. Pruitt for his efforts to roll back environmental regulations. “I am concerned that the good progress being made on the policy front is being undercut by allegations of your management of the agency and use of its resources,” he said. “These issues are too persistent to ignore.”

Conservative lawmakers from fossil-fuel producing states, who have long pushed for the rollback of E.P.A. regulations, bypassed even slight criticism of Mr. Pruitt, attributing the scrutiny on his actions to a political witch hunt.

Representative David B. McKinley, Republican of West Virginia, told Mr. Pruitt sympathetically that the attacks on him “have an echo of McCarthyism.”

In many ways, the past 14 months of Mr. Pruitt’s tenure has been building to this moment.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, he made a name for himself aggressively battling the agency he now leads. Mr. Pruitt’s confirmation was fiercely opposed by Democrats, environmentalists and even E.P.A. employees. Since taking the helm of the agency, Mr. Pruitt has worked to strip the E.P.A. of funding, reduce its staff and curb its ability to develop new regulations on fossil fuel pollution.

No E.P.A. director in history has achieved Mr. Pruitt’s level of notoriety. Since the agency was formed, its administrators have been second-tier Washington figures. But Mr. Pruitt’s antagonism toward climate science has made him a nationally-prominent and divisive figure.

Critics said that more than the ethical and spending issues, the real damage to the E.P.A. has been Mr. Pruitt’s systematic weakening of the agency’s ability to protect the environment and public health. While Mr. Pruitt’s performance in Thursday’s hearings may make or break his future within the Trump administration, many said his legacy was already set.

“It’s just been a flagrant, shameless series of calculated decisions to dismantle the country’s most successful domestic enterprise,” William K. Reilly, who led the E.P.A. under the first President George Bush, said of Mr. Pruitt’s leadership. “It’s really a national tragedy,” he said.

Graphic

The Behavior That Put Scott Pruitt at the Center of Federal Inquiries

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency faces nearly a dozen federal inquiries into his practices. We break down the accusations by category.



OPEN Graphic


At Thursday morning’s hearing, Representative Joe Barton of Texas, who has long denied the overwhelming evidence of human effects on climate change, offered sympathy. “Mr. Pruitt, you’re not the first victim of Washington politics,” he said.

Democrats unsuccessfully sought to pin down Mr. Pruitt on questions about his expenditures, and to force him to accept culpability for some the actions now under investigation.

Representative Tony Cárdenas, a California Democrat, asked about Mr. Pruitt’s soundproof booth, installed in his E.P.A. office at a cost of $43,000. The Government Accountability Office has ruled that the expenditure broke the law.

“I was not aware of the approval of the $43,000,” Mr. Pruitt told him, “and if I had known about it, congressman, I would not have approved it.”

Mr. Cárdenas responded that “if someone was spending $43,000 in my office, I would know about it.”

Representative Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, launched into questions about Mr. Pruitt’s involvement in real estate deals in Oklahoma that have been reported in The New York Times, referring to the purchaser of his home as a “shell company.”

“It’s not a shell company,” he said quickly, and added that such financial structures were commonly used to purchase real estate in Oklahoma.

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Protesters interrupted Mr. Pruitt’s testimony during the morning hearing.

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Pete Marovich for The New York Times

She then asked Mr. Pruitt whether he had paid taxes on rent he received. He said the issue had been handed over to an accountant.

“I’m not doing this to hassle you. I’m doing this as an elected official,” Ms. DeGette said as she ended her questions. “Everything we do has to be to the highest ethical standards.”

Representative Paul Tonko, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy’s subcommittee on the Environment, pressed Mr. Pruitt on his claims that he was unaware that the E.P.A. had used an obscure legal provision to grant hefty raises to political appointees, bypassing approval by the White House. Mr. Pruitt has said the decision was taken by his chief of staff, Ryan Jackson.

“Did you authorize Mr. Jackson to sign those documents for you?” Mr. Tonko asked.

“I was not aware of the amount and I was not aware of the bypassing that was going on,” Mr. Pruitt replied.

Even some Republicans criticized Mr. Pruitt for repeatedly blaming his staff.

“If you say give me a phone booth, and your staff does it, you should say, I’m at fault,” said Representative John Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, the chairman of the House Energy subcommittee, speaking to reporters after the morning hearing. “It’s never good to blame your staff. Or at least do it behind closed doors.”

And Representative Anna G. Eshoo, a California Democrat, used her turn at questioning to try to get Mr. Pruitt to accept culpability. “You have a solid record of violating ethics rules from the state level to the federal government,” she told Mr. Pruitt. “I think it’s an embarrassment.” And then she asked, “Do you have any remorse? Yes or no?”

Mr. Pruitt responded: “I think there are changes I’ve made already. I’ve made a change from first class to coach travel.” Ms. Eshoo returned to her call for a yes-or-no answer, and asked Mr. Pruitt whether he would reimburse the government. He launched into a long response, but she cut him off.

“With all due respect, I may be elected, but I’m not a fool,” she said. “This is not ‘dodge-question’ day.”

Correction: April 26, 2018

An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect home state for Representative John Shimkus. He represents Illinois, not Pennsylvania.

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New Allegations Emerge Against Ronny Jackson as White House Digs In


Dr. Jackson told reporters at the White House that he had “no idea where that is coming from” but categorically denied the car accident. “I have not wrecked a car. I can tell you that,” he said, adding that “We’re still moving ahead as planned.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters earlier Wednesday afternoon that Dr. Jackson had been the subject of at least four background investigations, including by the F.B.I., during his time at the White House. None, she said, had turned up areas for concern, and Dr. Jackson had drawn praise from colleagues and presidents in each.

“None of those things have come up in the four separate background investigations that have taken place,” she said, referring to the recent allegations. “There’s been no area of concern that was raised for Dr. Jackson specifically.”

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Senator Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking member on the committee, said that he had received numerous allegations that Dr. Jackson regularly distributed a prescription sleep aid to White House staff members and members of the news media flying on long overseas trips.

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Michael Reynolds/EPA, via Shutterstock

But when pressed, Ms. Sanders said she could not comment on the credibility of specific charges.

“These are new,” she said. “I can only speak to some of the personal accounts that those of us have, as well as the records that we have that are substantiated through a very detailed and thorough background investigation process.”

Among those new charges she did not address: During an overseas trip by the Obama administration in 2015, Dr. Jackson went out drinking, came back to the delegation’s hotel and began banging on the door of a staff member’s hotel room, according to an account shared with the senior Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Jon Tester of Montana. The noise was so loud that members of the Secret Service came to see what was happening and warned Dr. Jackson to be quiet so he would not wake up the president, who was staying nearby.

The episode was first reported by CNN.

The document prepared by the committee’s Democratic staff paints a picture of a medical office that was casual with the prescribing and distribution of drugs but terrorized by a mercurial boss, quick to temper. According to summary, interviewed staff described Dr. Jackson as “the most unethical person I have ever worked with,” “flat-out unethical” and “incapable of not losing his temper,” among other charges.

The document includes allegations that Dr. Jackson regularly distributed Ambien, a prescription sleep aid, to members of the White House staff and members of the news media flying on long overseas trips, as well as another prescription drug to promote wakefulness.

It says that the committee was told that physicians working with Dr. Jackson “felt uncomfortable and refused to be a part of the loose dispensing of drugs to current and former” White House staff. It also states that Dr. Jackson “also had private stocks of controlled substances.”

The document says that the committee received testimony that the White House medical unit “had questionable record keeping for pharmaceuticals” and that the committee was told that Dr. Jackson would often only account for pills after distributing them.

One former medical staff member described Dr. Jackson as a “kiss up, kick down boss,” who mistreated subordinates and created a hostile work environment.

Members of the Veterans Affairs Committee continue to investigate the claims,

Dr. Jackson had been scheduled to testify before the Senate committee on Wednesday, but its top Republican and Democrat announced on Tuesday that the session would be postponed to allow more time to investigate the claims.

Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, the committee’s chairman, said earlier on Wednesday that he intended to hold a confirmation hearing for Dr. Jackson, but would first need to receive documents that he and Mr. Tester requested on Dr. Jackson’s time at the White House. To speculate on the nominee’s fate before then, he said, would be unfair.

“He deserves a hearing and he’s going to get it,” Mr. Isakson said.

An aide to Mr. Tester said on Wednesday that other former colleagues of Dr. Jackson had reached out to the committee to share stories since details of its investigation became public. Other stories the committee had already collected continued to seep into public view.

On another trip during Barack Obama’s presidency, White House staff members reached out to Dr. Jackson for medical reasons but found him passed out in his hotel room after a night of drinking, Tester aides said. The staff members took the medical supplies they were looking for without waking Dr. Jackson.

The White House’s pushback — both in public and behind the scenes — was targeted toward the general allegations and not specific episodes, many of which appear to have occurred during the Obama administration.

Marc Short, the White House’s legislative affairs director, told reporters that the White House would be requesting a confirmation hearing. Dr. Jackson told reporters in brief comments on Tuesday that he was looking forward to testifying to answer the charges against him.

Mr. Short pushed back against assertions that Dr. Jackson had casually doled out prescription drugs.

“Every year they come in and they do a review of the White House physician’s office on things like prescriptions,” Mr. Short told reporters. “And every year, they’ve said that he’s totally in compliance with what he’s been prescribing.”

On Capitol Hill, some Republican senators worried that Dr. Jackson was being asked to account for anonymous accusations that had not yet been fully vetted. Others were still awaiting access to the more detailed charges collected by Mr. Tester and others on the Veterans Affairs Committee.

“For us to hound somebody out just because somebody can make an accusation strikes me as unfair,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber.

Mr. Cornyn defended Dr. Jackson’s reported distribution of Ambien and other drugs during long trips as nothing out of the ordinary. He said that because Dr. Jackson was a doctor, it was not a problem that he distributed the drugs, even without writing a prescription.

“On overseas travel, yeah, sure, people take Ambien to help them transition through time zones,” he said. “It’s pretty common, I’m led to believe.”

Still, some Democrats privately wondered if the allegations, on top of existing concerns that Dr. Jackson lacked the experience to lead one of the federal government’s largest and most troubled departments, would be enough to cut his nomination short.

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Scott Pruitt’s $43,000 Phone Booth Broke the Law, Congressional Auditors Say


Photo

Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, at a White House meeting in February. The agency is required to notify Congress before spending more than $5,000 on office equipment.

Credit
Tom Brenner/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency violated the law when it installed a $43,000 soundproof phone booth for the administrator, Scott Pruitt, a congressional watchdog agency found.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report on Monday that the E.P.A. was required to notify Congress before spending more than $5,000 on office equipment or decorations.

The E.P.A. said the secure phone booth was necessary “to make and receive phone calls and to discuss sensitive information, including classified telephone calls up to the top secret level.” The agency paid $23,000 for the phone booth and another $25,000 install a drop ceiling, remove closed-circuit television equipment and pour more concrete around the booth, according to agency contracts.

The G.A.O. said it was not taking a position on whether or not the installation of the privacy booth was necessary, but was focusing only on whether the agency violated the Antideficiency Act, which is designed to prevent the spending of money that has not been budgeted. Auditors wrote that the E.P.A.’s “failure to comply with a governmentwide statutory requirement that an agency notify the appropriations committees before it spends more than $5,000 for the office of a presidential appointee” was a violation of the law and should be reported to Congress and the president.

In an eight-page letter to lawmakers, Thomas H. Armstrong, the G.A.O.’s general counsel, said the agency did not send advance notice to Congress when it paid $43,238.68 from its Environmental Programs and Management budget to pay for the installation of the soundproof booth.

Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, who requested the investigation along with three other members of Congress, said Mr. Pruitt was “blatantly breaking laws and ethics rules that protect taxpayers from government waste, fraud and abuse in order to help himself to perks and special favors.”

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Doctors Urge Elite Academy to Expel a Member Over Charges of Plagiarism


This is a strange tale of a staid institution whose rules for members are lax enough that even an official investigation that found blatant plagiarism did not qualify as cause for expulsion of an elusive doctor.

The core of the complaint, filed by Dr. Kellermann of the F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., concerns a research paper in which Dr. Noji described some daring emergency medicine work he performed during the 2003 Iraq invasion. But an investigation in 2016 by the Uniformed Services University (a military medical school), where Dr. Noji was an adjunct professor, found that the mission was actually handled by Dr. Frederick “Skip” Burkle Jr., records show. The investigation also concluded that Dr. Noji plagiarized other research papers and misrepresented his credentials, according to the university’s complaint.

Dr. Noji did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, but in a letter in 2016 to the university, he denied wrongdoing.

“I must say that engineering the appearance of blatant plagiarism on my part was absolutely brilliant,” Dr. Noji wrote.

Photo

Dr. Eric K. Noji, a disaster medicine specialist, was elected to the elite National Academy of Medicine in 2005. Other members have sought his ouster, accusing him of plagiarism and fraud.

Credit
Alabastro Photography

Correcting the record has become something of a personal mission for Dr. Arthur Kellermann, dean of the military medical school, and a group of high-profile colleagues that includes a former surgeon general, an astronaut and a former White House doctor. They argue that the reputation of their mentor, Dr. Burkle, has been severely damaged and that the good name of both the university and the academy is at stake.

The case has pitted the military medical school, which prides itself on honor and service, against the academy, which considers its members above reproach.

“If you want to try and have an independent effort to investigate, it can be a very significant undertaking, with due process, so that you are confident in the outcome,” said R. Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who is also a member of the academy. “A lot of it will be confidential because they are personnel actions.”

In this case, it wasn’t until Dr. Burkle heard about the plagiarism, years after it occurred, that he notified the military medical school. An investigation by the medical school found that before Dr. Noji was named to the academy, he had plagiarized five research papers, fabricated an account of his personal exploits in Iraq, and claimed unearned degrees and awards, according to the school’s documents. The school dismissed him in May 2016.

But when Dr. Arthur Kellermann asked the academy to dismiss Dr. Noji as well, he hit a roadblock. Nothing in the academy bylaws allowed for ousting a member who had committed scientific misconduct. So Dr. Kellermann, who was on the academy’s governing board, and colleagues, lobbied for the change. Dr. Victor Dzau, president of the academy, supported it.

Formerly known as the Institute of Medicine, the organization is a division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and has over 2,000 members in the United States. It accepts about 70 new members from the U.S. a year. It is not a government agency, but it is often relied on as a source of independent, objective analysis for policymakers on subjects ranging from gun violence to regulation of medical devices. There is a long list of researchers who would like the cachet that comes from election to the academy and the high profile that can come from serving on one of its advisory panels.

In a compromise reached in December 2016, in the wake of the Noji complaint, the academy decided that membership could be rescinded if an individual provided false information before becoming a member.

Falsification, plagiarism or fabrication after a doctor becomes a member of the elite organization isn’t grounds for removal, said a spokesman for the organization. They are still considering Dr. Noji’s case.

Brian Martinson, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, and a specialist in research ethics, believes that’s an unfortunate loophole.

Photo

Dr. Frederick “Skip” Burkle Jr.

Credit
via Harvard University & T.H. Chan School of Public Health

“That’s crazy,” Mr. Martinson said. “I serve on a district council in my neighborhood and our bylaws are such that if you behave badly while you are on the board of directors we can kick you out.’’

Attempts to reach Dr. Noji at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he is a professor, according to the school’s website, were unsuccessful. A native of Hawaii, Dr. Noji spent roughly 20 years as a medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leaving in 2008.

In “Notes from the Field: Crisis in Iraq,” published in the International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters in March 2003, Dr. Noji wrote that he played a major role in the disaster assistance response after the invasion.

“Much of my work has been in hospitals, directly with patients and trying to identify the most critical needs of the health system, which has been under strain before, during and after the war,” Dr. Noji wrote.

Dr. Burkle, who was his supervisor on the mission, contradicts the account and say Dr. Noji never visited hospitals or treated patients, and spent just a few hours in Iraq. The university’s investigation confirmed Dr. Burkle’s account, their records show.

Dr. Burkle said he was pleased by the university’s investigation.

“I’m honored because one feels quite alone when this kind of plagiarism or fabrication happens, and not aware that it is happening to others,” Dr. Burkle said. “Everybody wants to avoid the subject. This is the first major step forward.”

Paul Auerbach, a Stanford medical school professor and editor of a popular medical textbook, said he was stunned to receive a call last year from Dr. Kellermann, telling him that a chapter written by Dr. Noji was actually heavily copied from the work of Dr. Burkle and Mark Keim, now retired from the C.D.C. and working as chief executive of DisasterDoc, an emergency services consulting firm. Dr. Auerbach compared the two copies.

“I was shocked, I went ‘oh my goodness!’’’ Dr. Auerbach said. “That was my worst nightmare. Once I saw it, it was a no-brainer. I won’t ever write a paper or publish a book again without putting it through plagiarism checks.”

With Dr. Burkle’s health fragile, Dr. Kellermann and others want Dr. Noji expelled from the academy while Dr. Burkle is still alive.

“He’s a mentor to the entire field,” Dr. Keim said, referring to Dr. Burkle as the father of disaster medicine. “That’s why it hurts us so much.”

Correction: April 11, 2018

An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the dean of F. the Edward Hébert School of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. He is Dr. Arthur Kellermann, not Kellerman.

Continue reading the main story

Doctors Urge Elite Academy to Expel a Member Over Charges of Plagiarism


This is a strange tale of a staid institution whose rules for members are lax enough that even an official investigation that found blatant plagiarism did not qualify as cause for expulsion of an elusive doctor.

The core of the complaint, filed by Dr. Kellermann of the F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., concerns a research paper in which Dr. Noji described some daring emergency medicine work he performed during the 2003 Iraq invasion. But an investigation in 2016 by the Uniformed Services University (a military medical school), where Dr. Noji was an adjunct professor, found that the mission was actually handled by Dr. Frederick “Skip” Burkle Jr., records show. The investigation also concluded that Dr. Noji plagiarized other research papers and misrepresented his credentials, according to the university’s complaint.

Dr. Noji did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, but in a letter in 2016 to the university, he denied wrongdoing.

“I must say that engineering the appearance of blatant plagiarism on my part was absolutely brilliant,” Dr. Noji wrote.

Photo

Dr. Eric K. Noji, a disaster medicine specialist, was elected to the elite National Academy of Medicine in 2005. Other members have sought his ouster, accusing him of plagiarism and fraud.

Credit
Alabastro Photography

Correcting the record has become something of a personal mission for Dr. Arthur Kellermann, dean of the military medical school, and a group of high-profile colleagues that includes a former surgeon general, an astronaut and a former White House doctor. They argue that the reputation of their mentor, Dr. Burkle, has been severely damaged and that the good name of both the university and the academy is at stake.

The case has pitted the military medical school, which prides itself on honor and service, against the academy, which considers its members above reproach.

“If you want to try and have an independent effort to investigate, it can be a very significant undertaking, with due process, so that you are confident in the outcome,” said R. Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who is also a member of the academy. “A lot of it will be confidential because they are personnel actions.”

In this case, it wasn’t until Dr. Burkle heard about the plagiarism, years after it occurred, that he notified the military medical school. An investigation by the medical school found that before Dr. Noji was named to the academy, he had plagiarized five research papers, fabricated an account of his personal exploits in Iraq, and claimed unearned degrees and awards, according to the school’s documents. The school dismissed him in May 2016.

But when Dr. Arthur Kellermann asked the academy to dismiss Dr. Noji as well, he hit a roadblock. Nothing in the academy bylaws allowed for ousting a member who had committed scientific misconduct. So Dr. Kellermann, who was on the academy’s governing board, and colleagues, lobbied for the change. Dr. Victor Dzau, president of the academy, supported it.

Formerly known as the Institute of Medicine, the organization is a division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and has over 2,000 members in the United States. It accepts about 70 new members from the U.S. a year. It is not a government agency, but it is often relied on as a source of independent, objective analysis for policymakers on subjects ranging from gun violence to regulation of medical devices. There is a long list of researchers who would like the cachet that comes from election to the academy and the high profile that can come from serving on one of its advisory panels.

In a compromise reached in December 2016, in the wake of the Noji complaint, the academy decided that membership could be rescinded if an individual provided false information before becoming a member.

Falsification, plagiarism or fabrication after a doctor becomes a member of the elite organization isn’t grounds for removal, said a spokesman for the organization. They are still considering Dr. Noji’s case.

Brian Martinson, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, and a specialist in research ethics, believes that’s an unfortunate loophole.

Photo

Dr. Frederick “Skip” Burkle Jr.

Credit
via Harvard University & T.H. Chan School of Public Health

“That’s crazy,” Mr. Martinson said. “I serve on a district council in my neighborhood and our bylaws are such that if you behave badly while you are on the board of directors we can kick you out.’’

Attempts to reach Dr. Noji at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he is a professor, according to the school’s website, were unsuccessful. A native of Hawaii, Dr. Noji spent roughly 20 years as a medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leaving in 2008.

In “Notes from the Field: Crisis in Iraq,” published in the International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters in March 2003, Dr. Noji wrote that he played a major role in the disaster assistance response after the invasion.

“Much of my work has been in hospitals, directly with patients and trying to identify the most critical needs of the health system, which has been under strain before, during and after the war,” Dr. Noji wrote.

Dr. Burkle, who was his supervisor on the mission, contradicts the account and say Dr. Noji never visited hospitals or treated patients, and spent just a few hours in Iraq. The university’s investigation confirmed Dr. Burkle’s account, their records show.

Dr. Burkle said he was pleased by the university’s investigation.

“I’m honored because one feels quite alone when this kind of plagiarism or fabrication happens, and not aware that it is happening to others,” Dr. Burkle said. “Everybody wants to avoid the subject. This is the first major step forward.”

Paul Auerbach, a Stanford medical school professor and editor of a popular medical textbook, said he was stunned to receive a call last year from Dr. Kellermann, telling him that a chapter written by Dr. Noji was actually heavily copied from the work of Dr. Burkle and Mark Keim, now retired from the C.D.C. and working as chief executive of DisasterDoc, an emergency services consulting firm. Dr. Auerbach compared the two copies.

“I was shocked, I went ‘oh my goodness!’’’ Dr. Auerbach said. “That was my worst nightmare. Once I saw it, it was a no-brainer. I won’t ever write a paper or publish a book again without putting it through plagiarism checks.”

With Dr. Burkle’s health fragile, Dr. Kellermann and others want Dr. Noji expelled from the academy while Dr. Burkle is still alive.

“He’s a mentor to the entire field,” Dr. Keim said, referring to Dr. Burkle as the father of disaster medicine. “That’s why it hurts us so much.”

Correction: April 11, 2018

An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the dean of F. the Edward Hébert School of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. He is Dr. Arthur Kellermann, not Kellerman.

Continue reading the main story

With Scant Precedent, White House Insists Trump Could Fire Mueller Himself


“We’ve been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision,” she added.

Photo

Archibald Cox, the first special counsel investigating Watergate, outside Federal District Court in Washington in October 1973.

Credit
Associated Press Photo

But there is scant precedent supporting the notion that Mr. Trump has lawful authority to bypass the acting attorney general and directly fire Mr. Mueller, legal scholars said.

Martin S. Lederman, a Georgetown University law professor who served in the Office of Legal Counsel during the Obama administration, pointed to a series of Supreme Court cases in which justices across generations have said that the power to remove a government employee resides with the official — or a successor — who appointed the person, unless Congress has enacted a statute making an exception.

Among them, in a seminal 1839 case, the Supreme Court said the heads of departments appointed inferior officials and had the power to remove them, adding “the president has certainly no power to remove.” As recently as in a 2010 case, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., observed that if Congress had vested in a department head the power to appoint an inferior officer, “it is ordinarily the department head, rather than the president, who enjoys the power of removal.”

Against that backdrop, Mr. Lederman argued: “Surely if Richard Nixon could have fired Archie Cox himself, he would have done so to avoid the Saturday Night Massacre. He didn’t because he didn’t have the authority to do so.”

Still, Jack L. Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor and former head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush administration, said the previous Supreme Court statements did not arise in a context exactly like a situation in which Mr. Trump said he had the constitutional power to fire Mr. Mueller directly and then tried to do it. Mr. Goldsmith said it was unclear what would happen then.

“I agree that the proper and most legally sound route would be to order Rosenstein to dismiss Mueller and then fire him if he doesn’t comply,” Mr. Goldsmith said. “That is clearly the right way under the law. That is the right way under the precedents. And that would be the legally safer way to do it. But there is an argument that he could do so directly and that question has never been tested in a context exactly like this.”

Further complicating matters is the question of how much the Justice Department’s regulation for special counsels is protecting Mr. Mueller.

Photo

The deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, last year at a congressional hearing. For the purpose of the Russia inquiry, he is the acting attorney general.

Credit
Pete Marovich for The New York Times

People who do not want the Trump administration to fire Mr. Mueller have taken comfort from the fact that when Mr. Rosenstein appointed Mr. Mueller, he stated that a portion of those regulations — including a provision that says only the attorney general can fire a special counsel and only for misconduct — would be “applicable” to Mr. Mueller.

In a statement criticizing Ms. Sanders’s statement on Tuesday, Matt House, a spokesman for the Senate minority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said, “The D.O.J. regulations could not be more clear.”

In the 1974 case over the Watergate tapes, the Supreme Court cited a similar regulation protecting Mr. Cox’s successor, Leon Jaworski, from being fired without good reason and said that unless it was rescinded, “the executive branch is bound by it.”

Still, one novel question is whether a president must obey a Justice Department regulation.

Another is whether the regulation is actually protecting Mr. Mueller from arbitrary firing by anyone other than Mr. Rosenstein, specialists said. The last question is raised by the fact that Mr. Rosenstein did not technically appoint Mr. Mueller under that regulation.

Rather, he invoked statutes in which Congress authorized the attorney general to appoint special lawyers for specific investigations, but those statutes include no special protections.

That has left it murky whether Mr. Rosenstein’s statement that the regulation applies to Mr. Mueller is legally binding or was more like a personal promise about the approach he would follow as Mr. Mueller’s supervisor. Still, Mr. Lederman said the distinction might make little difference in practice, since any successor to Mr. Rosenstein who was determined to fire Mr. Mueller could also just rescind Mr. Mueller’s appointment letter or the regulation itself.

“You’re already way out there if you’re willing to fire Mueller, so if you have to get rid of the regulation or the appointment letter to do so, that person, whoever that would be, would probably be happy to do so,” he said.

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