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WASHINGTON — A year before President Trump named Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, where he quickly became a presidential favorite by gutting pollution rules and slashing staff, Mr. Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general, assailed Mr. Trump on a talk radio show, saying he would be “abusive to the Constitution.”
In February 2016, speaking on the Pat Campbell Show, a news show broadcast out of Tulsa, Mr. Pruitt was asked if he was a Trump supporter. Mr. Pruitt responded, “No. No, He’s the very … and you say that Pat but do you know what’s interesting? I believe that Donald Trump in the White House would be more abusive to the Constitution than Barack Obama — and that’s saying a lot.”
“I really believe he would use a blunt instrument. This president at least tries to nuance his unlawfulness,” Mr. Pruitt said. “Donald Trump has said many, many times they want … I’ll do this I’ll do that. And those things that he’s mentioned cannot be done. I think executive orders with Donald Trump would be a very blunt instrument with respect to the Constitution.”
The broadcast of one of Mr. Trump’s top lieutenants came to light as Mr. Pruitt testified Tuesday morning before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. As part of the committee’s questioning, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, played the interview excerpt in which Mr. Pruitt said Mr. Trump would be “more abusive” to the Constitution than Mr. Obama.
The senator asked Mr. Pruitt if he recalled making the comments, and Mr. Pruitt responded: “I don’t. And I don’t think that today at all.”
It was not yet apparent how Mr. Trump, who prizes loyalty in his inner circle, reacted to the airing of the broadcast. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his leadership at the E.P.A., Mr. Pruitt has often won praise from Mr. Trump as a key executor of the president’s aggressive efforts to roll back regulations on business and industry. Mr. Pruitt was among the most influential voices in urging Mr. Trump to withdraw the country from the landmark Paris climate change agreement, making the United States only nation in the world not party to the accord.
In a sign of the high regard in which the President holds his E.P.A. chief, Mr. Trump has tasked Mr. Pruitt, rather than his Secretary of State, Rex W. Tillerson, with crafting the legal tactics to implement that withdrawal.
Mr. Pruitt’s 2016 remarks appear sharply at odds with his tenure at the E.P.A. Last year, Mr. Trump released multiple executive orders aimed at undoing environmental regulations on air, water and planet-warming pollution. Mr. Pruitt responded swiftly, drafting a list of legal proposals to undo those rules.
However, on the 2016 radio show, Mr. Pruitt said, “This, if Donald Trump is the nominee and eventually the president, he would take, I think unapologetic steps, to use executive power to confront Congress in a way that is truly unconstitutional.”
In an opening statement provided to senators on Tuesday, Mr. Pruitt stressed his commitment to process, rule of law and the Constitution. “E.P.A. will seek to improve its processes and reinvigorate the rule of law as it administers environmental regulations as Congress intended, and to refocus the agency on its core statutory obligations. I am a firm believer that federal agencies exist to administer laws passed by Congress, as intended.”
Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, the chairman of the Environment panel, praised Mr. Pruitt’s legal actions at the agency. “During the last administration, E.P.A. administrators created broad and legally questionable new regulations that undermined the American people’s faith in the agency. These regulations have done great damage to the livelihoods of our nation’s hardest working citizens.”
Of Mr. Pruitt, Senator Barrasso said, “He has balanced the need to prioritize environmental protection with the desires of Americans to have thriving and economically sustainable communities. His leadership of E.P.A. is vastly different than that of his last two predecessors. Under the Obama administration, the agency had lost its way.”