Woodward book details Pruitt’s push to exit Paris

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and onetime White House strategist Steve Bannon instigated President Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate accord.

Such is the picture longtime Washington Post reporter and author Bob Woodward paints in his new book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” which was released today and continues to draw daily criticism from the Trump administration.

Within the book’s 357 pages, Pruitt appears at an unscheduled April 5, 2017, meeting in the Oval Office, which Woodward cast as an “off-the-books” meeting. Also present was Bannon, who would serve as Trump’s chief strategist during the first seven months of Trump’s term.

“We need to get out of Paris,” Pruitt said before handing the president a draft statement, which he said could serve as a press release. Pruitt had been leading EPA for a little more than a month at that point.

“Yes, yes, yes,” Bannon said several times. “We’ve got to do this now.”

Former senior Trump aide Rob Porter, who had followed Pruitt into the Oval Office, was taken off guard, Woodward wrote. Porter, Pruitt’s former Sherpa, knew the meeting was not on the regular schedule and the draft that Pruitt handed the president hadn’t been legally reviewed, nor was there any consultation within the White House.

According to the book, Porter later took Pruitt’s draft from Trump’s desk and scolded the former EPA chief and Bannon for appearing in the Oval Office without being appropriately scheduled.

Pruitt’s meeting occurred after weeks of the president’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, launching a “covert operation” in hopes of convincing her father to keep the United States in the nonbinding international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Woodward, she had coordinated phone calls between the president and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, an outspoken climate advocate, and Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook.

At one point, she slipped a personal message from former Vice President Al Gore, one of the loudest supporters of Paris, into a stack of papers on the president’s desk, according to the book.

But Pruitt’s salvo would prove successful.

On June 1, 2017, the president announced the United States was leaving the Paris accord, a move that ultimately disregarded what Woodward painted as constant efforts from Ivanka Trump to remain.

The EPA administrator, who would resign nearly a year later amid a slew of allegations of misusing taxpayer dollars and ethics investigations, would make the rounds on cable news and emerge as the face of the president’s decision.

Pruitt’s surprise meeting is part of a larger picture Woodward paints of a chaotic White House filled with scheming and frustrated subordinates attempting to veer Donald Trump in the right direction or jockey for policy positions.

The president, in return, has called the book a work of fiction.

“The Woodward book is a Joke — just another assault against me, in a barrage of assaults, using now disproven unnamed and anonymous sources. Many have already come forward to say the quotes by them, like the book, are fiction,” he tweeted yesterday morning.

Who’s in, who’s out

What’s striking throughout the book is how many Cabinet members — Pruitt included — are gone.

In one example, Woodward carefully details an April 27, 2017, meeting focused on the Paris climate accord. Almost every attendee who voiced an opinion has since left. At the meeting, Trump’s former chief economist, Gary Cohn, gathered the principals for a meeting on the climate agreement in the Situation Room.

Cohn, who left the White House in May, waited for Trump’s top lawyer, Don McGahn, to arrive before discussing a six-page memo that laid out the options of exiting the Paris Agreement or remaining and putting further financial commitments and contributions on hold.

McGahn, who is slated to leave his post this fall, supported leaving the Paris accord and pointed to deregulation as his reason.

“We’re going to have these court cases,” McGahn is quoted in the book. “And if we don’t get out of Paris, then it’s really going to jeopardize some of the regulatory rollback that we’re likely to do at EPA.”

Emerging as the lone advocate for staying in the agreement was former Secretary of State and Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson, whom Trump fired on Twitter in March (Greenwire, March 13).

“You don’t know what you are talking about,” Tillerson said. “My State Department legal adviser, which was the office that negotiated this in the first place and has the relevant expertise, says we can’t just announce that we are getting out.”

Tillerson was outnumbered.

Woodward also detailed a June 1, 2017, meeting between Trump, Porter and national security adviser H.R. McMaster shortly before the White House announced the U.S. would no longer be a party to the Paris Agreement.

Huddling in the Oval Office that day, McMaster and Porter launched a last-ditch effort to sway Trump to stay in the pact. Porter, according to the book, had drafted language for Trump to use that would allow the U.S. to withdraw from the “terms” of the agreement without technically leaving.

“This will read like it’s tough enough,” Porter argued to McMaster. “He’ll feel like he’s getting the political bang for the buck. He’ll be fulfilling the campaign promise. It’ll excite the base.”

But Trump, upon seeing their draft language, didn’t agree and called for a full-scale withdrawal. “That’s the only way that I can be true to my base,” the president said.

Porter left the White House in February amid allegations of physical abuse from his two ex-wives. McMaster left his post a month later.