Documents detail threats to EPA's Scott Pruitt

While drinking and watching MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show on April 8, 2017, a viewer in Arkansas posted on Twitter what he or she would later describe to federal investigators as a "flippant comment" about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Within four days, special agents from the EPA tracked the angry tweeter down with the help of the FBI and local police. The person said they did not realize "at the time that (the tweet) could be considered a threat," though a special agent noted it apparently referenced murder.

Investigators referred the case to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas, who declined to prosecute.

The case is one of dozens described in documents released Monday by the EPA's Office of Inspector General in response to Freedom of Information Act requests by CBS News and other outlets. The documents confirm claims by the EPA that agency has investigated significantly more threats against Pruitt than his predecessor, but also show that few if any were serious enough to lead to charges.

Pruitt has faced intense scrutiny for his 20-person full-time security detail, unprecedented in the EPA's nearly 50-year history, which is staffed with special agents from the agency's small Criminal Investigation Division. The EPA has justified the detail by citing the strong opposition to Pruitt, who has used his tenure to start rolling back many of the agency's anti-pollution policies.  

In fiscal year 2017, the agency initiated 50 threat investigations, 17 of which involved perceived threats to either Pruitt or his family. Three cases involved possible threats to his predecessor, Gina McCarthy, who served in the Obama administration, and one was against both administrators. By comparison, the year before, the agency investigated just six possible threats directed at the EPA administrator.

Out of the 50 investigations, just two led to arrests. It's unclear if either case related to threats against Pruitt. However, information about six cases related to threats against Pruitt were labeled with (b)(7)(a) redactions, indicating that the agency determined revealing information about the case could possibly interfere with law enforcement operations.

The possible threats were received via letter, postcard, email, phone call and in at least three cases through social media posts, such as a 2017 case that did not result in charges, in which the the subject of an investigation said he or she was "not happy with some of the Administrator's policies and wanted to express ... displeasure."

In one case that remained open as of Aug. 16, 2017, a member of Pruitt's family was targeted on Facebook.

"I hope your (redacted) dies soon, suffering as your (redacted) watches in horror for hours on end," a person allegedly wrote to the member of Pruitt's family.

In the other social media case, an EPA employee reported in 2017 that a former colleague posted a potentially threatening message on social media. The former employee was interviewed by investigators, apologized, and was barred from accessing the regional EPA facility where they worked.

The documents detail at least six investigations of workplace threats involving current or former EPA employees or contractors, and notes that more than half of all threats are investigated by the agency's Office of Professional Responsibility, which conducts internal investigations.

The documents detail one such investigation of a possible threat to Pruitt. In March of this year, a copy of Pruitt's February 2018 Newsweek cover was found taped to the inside of an EPA elevator.

"A mustache, which appears to be hand drawn appears on the face of Administrator Pruitt," an EPA Special Agent wrote in the March report.

The matter was determined by a special agent to not be an overt threat to Pruitt.

  • Graham Kates

    Graham Kates is an investigative reporter covering criminal justice, privacy issues and information security for CBSNews.com.