White House officials sounded increasingly doubtful Thursday about the future of embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, even as President Donald Trump appeared to throw him a public lifeline, the AP reports. Speaking Thursday to reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump used a series of superlatives to describe Pruitt. "I think he's done a fantastic job," the president said. "I think he's done an incredible job. He's been very courageous. It hasn't been easy, but I think he's done a fantastic job." That was contrasted by more tepid remarks earlier from White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley. "They say we all serve at the pleasure of the president," Gidley told reporters. "The president himself said he had confidence (in Pruitt), and so that's where we stand today." "I'll make that determination," Trump said when asked whether he was bothered by the ethics issues surrounding Pruitt. "But he's a good man, he's done a terrific job. But I'll take a look at it."
Pruitt has been under fire for days amid numerous ethics questions, including his rental of a bargain-priced Capitol Hill condo with ties to a fossil fuels lobbyist. If Trump were to fire him, he would be the fourth agency head ousted in the Trump administration's first 15 months. Trump has often lavished praise on Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who has worked relentlessly to scrap, delay or rewrite Obama-era environmental regulations opposed by the oil, gas and coal industries. But he also has publicly expressed support for other administration officials who were fired or resigned, right up until sending tweets announcing their departure. A review of Pruitt's ethical conduct by White House officials is underway, adding to other probes already being conducted by congressional oversight committees and EPA's inspector general into outsized spending on luxury air travel and unusual security precautions. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that Trump is not OK with some of the details that have emerged, including news this week of enormous raises awarded to two of Pruitt's close aides.