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June 13, 2018

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who has found himself in an ethical quagmire over rampant spending concerns, allegedly assigned a specific EPA aide as a "headhunter for his spouse," The Washington Post reports. The Judicial Crisis Network ultimately hired Marlyn Pruitt, a former school nurse, as a temporary "independent contractor" after having received her resume from the executive vice president of the Federalist Society, Leonard Leo — who is also a Pruitt donor and a friend of the family. Pruitt had also pressured another donor, Doug Deason, to find employment for his wife after Deason said he could not hire her due to the obvious conflict of interest.

Pruitt had allegedly told EPA staff that he needed more money to hold onto his two houses in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and in Washington, D.C.; Marlyn Pruitt has had no income over $5,000 in recent years. The executive branch ethics counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told the Post that Pruitt's use of an aide to "become the headhunter for his spouse" is particularly concerning because Marlyn's job would ultimately "affect his financial interests." Public officials are not allowed to use their posts for private gain.

Samantha Dravis, who served as the EPA's Office of Policy associate administrator, was assigned the task of finding work for Marlyn. While Dravis didn't comment to the Post — she has since left the EPA — one friend said Pruitt "pressured her" to find work for his wife.

Pruitt is already the subject of a dozen different federal investigations. Read more about the job hunt for his wife at The Washington Post and here at The Week. Jeva Lange

4:07a.m.

A CNN/SSRS poll of Florida's Senate and gubernatorial race released Sunday had some good news for Democrats that CNN says "could be an outlier" or "an indicator of renewed Democratic enthusiasm." In the gubernatorial race, Democrat Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, opened up a 12-point lead among likely voters over former Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), 54 percent to 42 percent. Incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has a smaller 5-point lead over Gov. Rick Scott (R), 50 percent to 45 percent, within the poll's margin of error.

The Democrats, especially Gillum, are being buoyed by lopsided advantages among women, younger voters, and non-white voters. The Republicans have a wide lead on the issue of the economy and the Democrats dominate on the issue of health care. Gillum and Scott are seen getting a boost from their responses to Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle.

As CNN political analyst Mark Preston notes in the video below, the races are likely tighter than this poll suggests — according to the RealClearPolitics average, Gillum leads DeSantis by 3.7 percentage points, thanks largely to the boost from this CNN poll, and Nelson leads Scott by 1.3 points. FiveThirtyEight rates the Gillum-DeSantis race a "likely Democratic" pickup. Several reputable polls have registered greater Democratic enthusiasm.

SRSS conducted the CNN poll Oct. 16-20 on landlines and cellphones, contacting 1012 adults, including 872 registered voters and 759 likely voters. The margin of error for registered voters is ±3.9 percentage points and for likely voters, ±4.2 points. "The Democratic advantages in the poll were similar across multiple versions of a likely voter model, including those driven more by interest in the campaign and those which placed stronger emphasis on past voting behavior," CNN notes. Peter Weber

3:12a.m.

At the end of their debate earlier this month, two candidates for a Vermont state House seat asked the moderator for a few extra minutes — not to make last-second appeals for votes, but rather to make a little music.

Lucy Rogers, the Democrat, grabbed her cello, while Zac Mayo, the Republican, picked up his guitar. They started performing "Society" by Eddie Vedder, much to the surprise of everyone in attendance at the debate inside the Varnum Memorial Library in Jefferson. "It strikes a chord," Mayo told CBS News. "To say to the world that this is a better way."

Rogers and Mayo agreed early on while campaigning in Lamoille County that they were going to be civil and treat each other with respect throughout the race. During a Fourth of July parade, the pair discussed their mutual love of music, and ahead of the debate, Rogers asked Mayo if he wanted to play a song with her. He thought it was a fantastic idea — and so did the voters who attended the debate. One told CBS News it "gave me a lot of hope," while another declared this was "what we needed all along." Catherine Garcia

2:58a.m.

Caroll Spinney is retiring as the voice and actor behind beloved Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Since Spinney has given life to Big Bird since 1969, replacing him will be no small feat. The Late Show had some unconventional ideas for people who might be able to fill these oversize bird feet, and through the magic of television, you can watch these four prominent men try out for the role. The words that come out of Big Bird's mouth are actual audio clips from these very public figures, but they are probably not safe for Sesame Workshop.

Scott Meslow spoke with Spinney for The Week in 2015, and you can read that interview for more information about the man who breathed life into Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for 50 years. Peter Weber

2:32a.m.

Four Americans and their Costa Rican tour guide were killed on Saturday when their rafts overturned on the Naranjo River in Quepos, Costa Rica.

Officials said Sunday that three rafts carrying 18 people overturned, and 13 passengers were able to hang onto the rafts but five were pulled downstream. The victims have been identified as American tourists Ernesto Sierra, Jorge Caso, Sergio Lorenzo, and Andres Dennis, all between the ages of 25 and 35, and their Costa Rican tour guide, Kevin Thompson Reid.

The river was high from rains, officials said, and the Red Cross had 12 workers in the area, who helped assist with the rescue. Catherine Garcia

2:23a.m.

WikiLeaks founder and longtime resident of Ecuador's London embassy Julian Assange now has to pay for his own medical bills and phone calls, clean up his bathroom and living area, and take care of his cat, including paying for its food and cleaning the litter. Assange is suing Ecuador and its foreign minister, Jose Valencia, arguing that the new protocols are unfair and were created without his input. The obligations to clean up after his cat are particularly "denigrating," his lawyer Baltasar Garzón said at a news conference in Quito on Friday.

Assange sought asylum in Ecuador's London embassy in 2012, evading a Swedish arrest warrant for suspected sexual assault. Sweden later dropped the investigation, but Britain says it will arrest him if he leaves the embassy for violating the terms of his bail. Assange, who gave a boost to President Trump during the 2016 election, has said he believes Britain would extradite him to the U.S. to face prosecution for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents. Ecuador granted Assange, an Australian national, citizenship in 2017, then briefly tried to name him to a diplomatic post in Russia, Reuters reports.

Assange "has been held in inhuman conditions for more than six years," Garzón said. "Even people who are imprisoned have phone calls paid for by the state." He also said Assange hasn't had internet access since March, contradicting a statement from WikiLeaks last week. Garzón did not say who has been cleaning up after Assange's cat for six years. Valencia, named in the lawsuit because he is the intermediary between Assange and Ecuador's government, said Ecuador "will respond in an appropriate manner," but "the protocol is in line with international standards and Ecuadorian law." Peter Weber

2:10a.m.

The official Saudi Press Association reported on Sunday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called the eldest son of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi to offer his condolences to the family.

On Oct. 2, Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and was never seen again. Turkish officials said he was murdered by Saudi agents, and on Friday, Saudi Arabia admitted he was killed inside the consulate, claiming he died during a fistfight. On Fox News Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said it was a "rogue operation," and "the individuals who did this did this outside the scope of their authority. There obviously was a tremendous mistake made, and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up. That is unacceptable in any government."

The foreign minister said the crown prince and the kingdom's intelligence services did not know about the operation in advance, and that the Saudis do not know exactly how Khashoggi was killed or where his body is now. Saudi Arabia feels the Khashoggi family's "pain," al-Jubeir said, and "I assure them that those responsible will be held accountable for this." Catherine Garcia

1:08a.m.

The Miami Herald on Sunday endorsed Democrat Andrew Gillum for governor, saying he's the "best candidate to pull Florida back to center."

The editorial board has a lot of faith in Gillum, the mayor of the state capital, Tallahassee. Gillum will ensure that "the middle class and working class don't continue to bear the brunt of Tallahassee's misguided spending," the editorial said, and will also put public schools back "in the spotlight," will help those denied health insurance, and will "fight against sea-level rise and the degradation of the environment."

The Republican candidate, former Rep. Ron DeSantis, is "using worn-out fear tactics to win votes," and voters should "really be alarmed at DeSantis' close proximity to supporters and contributors who have made racist comments, especially at the candidate's campaign appearances." In contrast, Gillum has conducted an "all-embracing, optimistic, and engaging campaign throughout the state," the editorial board said, and that's "another quality that speaks well of the state leader he would be."

The board believes that "after eight years of misplaced priorities, it's time to swing the pendulum back, back to a Florida that works for more of us, that builds on its prosperity and that doesn't squander its more precious resources, be they fiscal, environmental, or human." Read more of the Herald's endorsement of Gillum here. Catherine Garcia

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