Political News

How Pruitt’s Aides Work to Shield the Boss

Posted May 7, 2018 5:20 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — The New York Times was given a cache of EPA emails and other documents detailing the communications of top political aides to Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency chief, after the Sierra Club, an environmental group, sued to obtain the correspondence.

More than 10,000 pages from two aides who handled Pruitt’s daily schedule offer a detailed window into the extraordinary efforts by his team to keep the public and news media at a distance. Here are some examples.

— ‘We cannot do open q&a from the crowd’

When Pruitt was scheduled in December to appear with an Iowa cattle rancher, aides at the EPA intervened to make sure that the administrator would not face unfriendly or unexpected questions from the crowd or uninvited reporters. “It’s invite only press I thought?” one aide to Pruitt wrote. “My sincere apologies for causing any difficulty but we cannot do open q&a from the crowd,” a second aide wrote.

— ‘Cat’s out of the bag’

Planning for a trip to Missouri hit a bump last April when word leaked about Pruitt meeting with electric utility executives even though organizers had tried to keep the talks secret. “Cat’s out of the bag,” one of the organizers wrote.

A plan had already been devised to scrub social media about the visit. “Comments that are derogatory and/or abusive will be hidden from public view,” a public relations consultant wrote. “Commenter receives no notification this hiding has happened.”

‘Le Diplomate is his favorite!’

Pruitt frequently met with energy industry lobbyists at hotels and restaurants. In one message, an aide revealed that Pruitt had a particular fondness for Le Diplomate, a French bistro in Washington where the administrator was often seen last year.

“Le Diplomate is his favorite!” one of Pruitt’s aides wrote for the planned dinner with lobbyist Michael McKenna, who has represented Koch Industries, the industrial conglomerate owned by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch; as well as Southern Co., an electric utility; and Dow Chemical Co.

But there was a problem. “Le Diplomate is booked so let me see what other options we have. Michael, any Suggestions?” “Central. Rural Society. Rosa Mexicano if Mexican is a good answer. Cava on 8th Street, SE. The Hamilton. Woodward Table,” McKenna wrote back, referring to other popular spots in Washington.

— ‘We won’t reply until the visit is over’

A visit to a Toyota car manufacturing plant in Texas by Pruitt came with an upfront demand by the EPA: “We’d ask you keep this a private event, closed to press.” As the August event was getting underway, a CBS News reporter heard about it. “We just received an inquiry from a CBS News reporter in Dallas about the visit” the Toyota executive told the EPA. “We won’t reply until the visit is over.”

— ‘But please do ensure that they refer to him as the Honorable’

In another instance not previously made public, Richard Smotkin, a longtime supporter of Pruitt’s who was a Comcast lobbyist at the time, invited Pruitt to a fundraiser for a nonprofit group that he helps run, the American Council of Young Political Leaders, which offers foreign-exchange programs for emerging political leaders.

At the event, Pruitt was to be presented with an award in the form of a globe engraved with his name. Some agency ethics officials raised questions about the appropriateness of receiving an award at a fundraising event.

Officials ultimately came up with a creative solution.

“Here is the feedback I received: “Yes, the Administrator may attend the event, and yes, he may receive the globe,” an email from an aide to Pruitt, Sydney Hupp, said. “But please do ensure that they refer to him as the Honorable (as opposed to the EPA Administrator).”

— ‘Closed — No press at meeting’

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida, was the venue for a gathering in April 2017 of the National Mining Association, where Pruitt was invited to a “Closed — No press at meeting” event with “CEOs from the major coal, metal and minerals, as well as manufacturers of mining equipment,” companies, the documents show.

— ‘The Administrator will be in Italy next week!’

The emails include detailed itineraries for Pruitt’s travels in June in Italy, with an agenda that shows most of his time was sightseeing. The excursions included a private tour of the Vatican library, a private tour of the excavations below Saint Peter’s Basilica and meals at top restaurants like Al Ceppo and La Terrazza at Hotel Eden, both in Rome.

One of the few work-related events on the schedule was a meeting with Italian-based executives from Dupont, Chemours and other chemical companies.

One complication this trip caused: Industry officials in Washington were still making appeals to meet with Pruitt, in closed-door gatherings. “The Administrator will be in Italy next week!” Hupp, who was a scheduler for Pruitt, wrote to an executive at Arch Coal, who had requested a meeting with Pruitt. “Wish that we could make it work!”