|In this Monday, Feb. 6, 2017 file photo, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, left, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency director nominee, places his hand over his heart as he recites the Pledge of Allegiance with other state officials before the start of the State of the State speech by Gov. Mary Fallin in Oklahoma City. A lawsuit accuses Pruitt of violating Oklahoma open records law by not providing access to emails and other official documents for up to two years. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)|
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, of violating the state open records law by not providing access to emails and other official documents sought for up to two years.
The Wisconsin-based advocacy group the Center for Media and Democracy alleges in its lawsuit that "Pruitt has denied prompt, reasonable access" to records sought in nine records requests since 2015 seeking communications between Pruitt and Koch Industries and other coal, oil and gas corporations, as well as the corporate-funded Republican Attorney General's Association.
The lawsuit says Pruitt's office acknowledged in August 2016 that it has 3,000 emails and other documents relevant to the Center for Media and Democracy's first request in January 2015 but has yet to turn over any of the records.
The lawsuit, filed in state district court in Oklahoma City, also requests an injunction to prevent Pruitt's office from destroying any emails or documents related to the organization's requests. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, which represents the advocacy group, said Pruitt's office agreed later Tuesday to preserve the documents while the litigation is pending.
A spokesman for Pruitt's office characterized the lawsuit as "nothing more than political theatre" and said the office notified the organization just last week "that release of their request was imminent."
"The Office of Attorney General remains committed to fulfilling both the letter and spirit of the Open Records Act," spokesman Lincoln Ferguson said in a statement.
Pruitt's failure to release the documents "is unreasonable and unjustifiable," said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma.
"Instead of complying with the law, he has stonewalled public interest groups, the United States Senate and the American people," Kiesel said. "When it comes to accountability and transparency, no government official is above the law — including the attorney general of Oklahoma."
Pruitt's nomination to lead the EPA was approved last week by the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and is now pending before the full Senate.
ACLU Legal Director Brady Henderson said many of the documents that the advocacy group has requested are also being sought by the Senate and other watchdog groups who want to scrutinize Pruitt's contacts with an industry he has been selected to regulate.
"Public records belong in public view, not hidden away behind closed doors," Henderson said. "That's what has been frustrated by Attorney General Pruitt's process, which has now taken to date over two years — and the end is nowhere in sight."
"We've been denied the right to look at those documents," said co-counsel Blake Lawrence of Oklahoma City. "We just want to see what the documents say."
As attorney general, Pruitt has repeatedly sued the EPA and criticized what he has characterized as the EPA's "activist agenda." He has been a reliable booster of the fossil fuel industry and has said his support for legal positions advocated by oil and gas companies was in the best interest of Oklahoma, which is economically dependent on the fossil fuel industry.