July 5, 2018 / 9:16 PM / 5 months ago

Breakingviews - Trump gives his team too long a leash

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2019 for the Environmental Protection Agency on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago

WASHINGTON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Donald Trump gives his team too long a leash when it comes to shady behavior. Scott Pruitt survived a rash of ethics scandals before finally resigning as head of the U.S. environmental watchdog on Thursday. His departure shows there are limits, but others facing questions, like commerce chief Wilbur Ross, needn’t worry yet: the bar is high.

The end of Pruitt’s term at the Environmental Protection Agency was a long time coming. He faces about a dozen investigations for a variety of potential ethics violations. They include getting a cheap condo room rental of $50 a night from an energy lobbyist’s wife and using EPA resources to find a job for his own spouse. Despite this, Trump admired his effectiveness in undoing environmental regulations – and was complimenting Pruitt as late as June amid increasing calls for the EPA chief to step down from fellow Republicans.

The situation has some read-across for Ross, who also faces ethics questions. He took a short position in shipping company Navigator Holdings worth between $100,001 and $250,000 on Oct. 31, five days after the New York Times contacted him about an article linking Navigator indirectly to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ross told CNBC earlier this week that he also shorted shares in Air Lease and Ocwen Financial.

Ross, who plays a key role in increasingly high-stakes trade talks, says those sales were part of divestments made to work in government and he didn’t profit from those transactions. Democratic lawmakers are increasingly concerned, though. Last week, three members of Congress asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether Ross violated insider-trading laws. Based on Pruitt’s experience, the allegations would probably have to get a lot worse before they threatened another high-level departure.

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