America Rising, a GOP oppo research firm, has filed a slew of Freedom of Information requests seeking access to EPA employees' email, targeting employees who criticized Donald Trump, Scott Pruitt, or EPA policies, or who participated in union rallies against cuts; the requests target communications that mention Trump officials or are addressed to Democrats in Congress.
An America Rising affiliate called "Definers Public Affairs" has just been awarded a "media monitoring" contract by the EPA, sparking fears that GOP-affiliated oppo researchers are now effectively a part of the agency's internal ideological police force.
Two of Definers' founders, Joe Pounder and Matt Rhoades were formerly employed at America Rising. Both firms share a number of executives, including the lawyer who filed the FOIA requests, Allan L. Blutstein.
Definers has done a lot of work to promote Trump's EPA boss Scott Pruitt — who formerly sued the agency more than a dozen times and requisitioned millions in private bodyguards out of fear of his own employees at the agency. The company drafted press releases condemning Pruitt's enemies and lauding his achievements.
America Rising also has a nonprofit arm called America Rising Squared, whose anonymous backers have funded programs to conduct surveillance on environmental activists and executives at environmental groups.
Some Republicans who previously worked for the agency said the hiring of Definers Public Affairs sent a worrisome message to employees already on edge and fearful of retaliation.
"Mr. Pruitt appears not to understand that the two most valuable assets E.P.A. has is the country's trust and a very committed professional work force," said William K. Reilly, the E.P.A. administrator under George Bush. "This shows complete insensitivity, complete tone-deafness, or something worse."
Liz Mair, president of a Republican consulting firm, said that the relatively small dollar amount of the contract was an indication that all the agency was buying was a clipping service, and not some kind of sophisticated intelligence-gathering on employees. But she added that certain E.P.A. staff members actually merited more scrutiny.
"A lot of funky stuff has been going on with E.P.A. staff," she said.
E.P.A. Employees Spoke Out. Then Came Scrutiny of Their Email. [Eric Lipton and Lisa Friedman/NYT]
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