Politics & Government

Former state senator Don Benton says he wasn’t pushed out of the EPA. ‘Nothing but fake news’

Don Benton addresses 'fake news' and why the U.S. still (sort of) has a draft | Capitol Happy Hour

Don Benton, a former Republican Washington state senator, talks about his new job leading the U.S. Selective Service System, which registers men for a nonexistent military draft. He also talks about why he likes taking the metro in Washington, D.C
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Don Benton, a former Republican Washington state senator, talks about his new job leading the U.S. Selective Service System, which registers men for a nonexistent military draft. He also talks about why he likes taking the metro in Washington, D.C

Don Benton wants to put the rumors to rest: They love him at the Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

The former Washington state senator was named the senior White House adviser to the EPA in January, after chairing President Donald’s Trump’s campaign across several Northwest states.

Three months later, Benton was out at the EPA, and was seemingly without fanfare named the head of the U.S. Selective Service System, which registers men for a potential military draft. (The United States hasn’t had an active draft since 1973.)

Shortly before that, The Washington Post had reported that EPA administrator Scott Pruitt had been “bristling” at Benton’s presence at the EPA. According to two senior administration officials who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity, Benton “piped up so frequently during policy discussions that he had been disinvited from many of them.”

“One of the officials described the situation as akin to an episode of the HBO comedy series ‘Veep,’” The Post wrote.

An editorial in the New York Times soon noted, “Mr. Benton is now driving Mr. Pruitt batty.”

Nearly all of those were reports were nothing but fake news, OK? Rumors, innuendo, that have been reported by people who don’t even know, or weren’t even in a position to know.

Don Benton, a former Washington state senator, on reports he had conflict during his short stint at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Benton didn’t respond to those reports at the time. But in a sit-down interview with The News Tribune and The Olympian this week, he shared his thoughts in full, on video. (Discussion starts at about the 5:30-minute mark.)

“Nearly all those reports were nothing but fake news, OK?” Benton said.“Rumors, innuendo, that have been reported by people who don’t even know, or weren’t even in a position to know. So let me make it clear, Scott Pruitt and I have a great relationship. We got along great, OK? We didn’t have conflict over really anything.

Benton said his job at the EPA was never intended to be permanent. “I was in a temporary role as the leader of the transition team,” he said.

“...I knew six weeks before I left there that I was leaving, and I knew where I was going — I just wasn’t allowed to say anything to anybody.”

(In remarks cut from the video, he attributed the early reports to “maybe wishful thinking on the part of some of these reporters, or reports from anonymous EPA employees that would like to stir up trouble.” )

Benton also attacked initial reports that he was the first director of the Selective Service who never served in the military. “Totally untrue.”

Benton said “not one single reporter ever asked” about his military record until weeks later, when he gave an interview to a local website in his hometown of Vancouver, Washington. (Discussion starts at about 7:10 into the video.)

That site, ClarkCountyToday.com, was founded by a former county official who had previously been accused of helping get Benton a county job as a political favor.

The Columbian newspaper later got copies of Benton’s military papers showing he served three months in the Army from December 1975 to February 1976.

Where does this come from, that oh, you must have military experience? It’s simply not required, it’s not an important aspect of the job.

Don Benton, who now heads the U.S. Selective Service, which registers men in preparation for a potential military draft

On Tuesday, Benton said he joined the military through a guaranteed training program. He went through basic training with the promise he would get specific training afterward with the U.S. Army Security Agency, he said.

When that training wasn’t available, he opted for an honorable discharge so he could then go get the training he wanted at a community college, he said.

Benton said details about his time in the military weren’t included in his official biography when he was appointed to the Selective Service because he didn’t think they were relevant to the position. As Selective Service director, Benton is in charge of getting nearly all U.S. men to register for a potential draft, even though the country hasn’t pressed people into military service for more than 40 years.

“The fact is, I was in the military. But the bigger story is... it’s not required,” Benton said.

“...Where does this come from, that oh, you must have military experience? It’s simply not required, it’s not an important aspect of the job.”

Benton said he never reached out to organizations like The Huffington Post to correct stories implying he didn’t serve in the military. (“I don’t think it’s my job, I’m not the journalist. It’s not my job to make sure you get your story right,” he said in remarks not included in the video.)

Benton also addressed one of the controversies that dogged him as a state senator: that he at one point called state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, a “trashy, trampy-mouthed little girl.”

He said he didn’t say that directly to Rivers, but rather described her behavior that way in a complaint he filed with the state Senate. (Discussion starts at about the 10:20 minute mark.)

“In my report I described her behavior as such,” Benton said. “Never once did I call her anything.”

Both senators reported the other swore at them at different points that year. A report from the Legislature later concluded that both lawmakers violated Senate rules by using derogatory language toward the other.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

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