Lobbyist reportedly aided embattled EPA head Scott Pruitt with travel plans

Lobbyists and a well-connected GOP political backer played outsized roles in shaping Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt’s travel plans, according to new reports.

Pruitt, already the target of multiple investigations for lavish spending and possible ethics violations, relied on the same lobbyist who helped plan a controversial trip to Morocco in December to arrange details of travel to Australia earlier last year, CNN reported on Thursday. Additionally, Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and GOP backer, played a major role in helping shape Pruitt’s planned trip to Israel in February, The Washington Post reported.

It’s very unusual for a person outside government to arrange travel plans for a Cabinet official, ethics experts have noted, and some critics have questioned whether Pruitt violated federal law by recruiting lobbyists and friends for this role. Public officials are prohibited from using their position to financially benefit friends. 

RELATED: Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt

10 PHOTOS
Former Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt
See Gallery
Former Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), speaks to employees of the Agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), greets employees of the agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt is sworn in by Justice Samuel Alito as his wife Marilyn holds a bible during ceremony at the Executive Office in Washington, U.S., February 17, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), greets employees of the agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick as head of the Environmental Protectional Agency, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), meets with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) (L) in her office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick as head of the Environmental Protectional Agency, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Oklahoma Farm Bureau Vice President of Public Policy John R.H. Collison (L) meets with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) to discuss state water issues at the attorney generals office in Oklahoma City, July 29, 2014.

(REUTERS/Nick Oxford)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt in a meeting at his office in Oklahoma City, July 29, 2014. 

(REUTERS/Nick Oxford)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The Post reported that Pruitt had been enlisting “well-connected friends and political allies” to help plan overseas travel since he took office. “Pruitt drew up a list of at least a dozen countries he hoped to visit and urged aides to help him find official reasons to travel,” the paper added.

Reports earlier this week revealed that Pruitt relied heavily on a longtime friend and former Comcast lobbyist, Richard Smotkin, to help plan his expensive trip to Morocco. Smotkin reportedly was hired as a lobbyist by the Moroccan government shortly after Pruitt’s visit, raising questions about whether the embattled EPA chief’s trip served to benefit Smotkin financially.

Smotkin also was involved in Pruitt planned trip to Australia last year, according to CNN. The lobbyist played a “critical” role in connecting the EPA head to Matthew Freedman, treasurer of the business lobby group the American Australian Council, and intended to travel to Australia with Pruitt, according to the report.

Freedman reportedly also was involved in planning the Australia trip and conferred with Pruitt’s staff to arrange the EPA chief’s schedule and talking points. Freedman suggested to Pruitt’s aides that the Institute of Public Affairs, a climate skeptic think tank, serve as co-host of Pruitt’s visit, reported The Guardian this week, citing emails recently released to the Sierra Club under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Australia visit, which had been slated to take place around September 2017, was eventually canceled. The EPA said at the time that Hurricane Harvey had derailed Pruitt’s travel schedule.

The planned trip to Israel in February was canceled days before the EPA head was scheduled to leave, after news broke that Pruitt’s first-class travel had cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. 

An Adelson associate reportedly met with two Pruitt aides to discuss the Israel itinerary in the days leading up to Pruitt’s departure. Adelson was said to have helped connect Pruitt with Water-Gen, an Israeli water purification company that makes products the EPA recently agreed to test. 

On Thursday, Democratic lawmakers wrote to the EPA administrator calling for more details about “the role Mr. Adelson or other non-governmental officials played” in the agreement with Water-Gen and the planned trip to Israel.

Pruitt is already facing multiple federal investigations into his spending and potential ethics lapses, including a $50-a-night condo he rented from the wife of an energy lobbyist. 

The New York Times reported Thursday that Pruitt secretly purchased a home with a lobbyist when he was a state senator in Oklahoma. The lobbyist at the time was pushing changes in workers’ compensation rules that Pruitt championed in the legislature, according to the report.

Amid the storm of scandals, three of Pruitt’s top aides ― his top spokeswoman, a top aide on toxic cleanups and the head of his security detail ― abruptly resigned this week.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
Read Full Story