Lobbyist, activist helped plan Pruitt's foreign trips
Posted May 2, 2018 7:43 a.m. EDT
Updated May 2, 2018 11:32 a.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (CNN) — A lobbyist and influential conservative activist were involved in planning two of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's foreign trips, a person familiar with the planning told CNN.
Lobbyist Richard Smotkin worked closely with EPA officials to organize Pruitt's December trip to Morocco, and Leonard Leo, the head of the conservative Federalist Society, was involved in the planning of Pruitt's trip to Italy in June. Both men joined Pruitt on the respective trips, the person said.
Smotkin and Leo's involvement in Pruitt's foreign travel adds a new layer to the scrutiny Pruitt is already facing over his travel and other questionable spending decisions from the EPA's inspector general and congressional investigators.
The New York Times and The Washington Post earlier reported Smotkin's involvement in the Morocco trip. The papers also revealed that Smotkin, who previously lobbied for Comcast, was later hired by the Moroccan government on a $40,000 a month lobbying contract, according to his registration as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice. The Times, citing three people involved, first reported Leo's connection to the Italy trip.
A source familiar with Pruitt's trip to Italy also said that Leo paid the bill for at least one dinner with Pruitt and several members of his EPA staff -- which could run afoul of government ethics rules.
Neither Smotkin not Leo returned CNN requests for comment. Jahan Wilcox, an EPA spokesman, said the agency's "Office of International and Tribal Affairs organized and led the effort around Administrator Pruitt's official meetings with Morocco, the Holy See and the G-7 Summit in Italy."
The EPA told both publications that Smotkin "did not attend or participate in any official meetings with the Moroccan government." However, people familiar with the arrangements told the Times that Smotkin organized several of Pruitt's meetings, including one with a phosphate mining company, OCP Group. A company representative did not respond to the Times' request for comment.
On the four-day trip, Smotkin was present during a visit to the Green Energy Park, a meeting with a phosphate executive, and a dinner with Pruitt, the EPA confirmed to the Post.
In the wake of the revelations, two Democratic senators are calling for a hearing to question Pruitt about his trip to Morocco. Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said "enough is enough" in a statement.
"Administrator Pruitt needs to explain this trip, as well as the flood of scandal he has brought to the EPA," the senators said, urging Republicans to bring Pruitt back to Congress following his questioning last week.
During last week's hearings, Pruitt maintained that the state purpose of the Morocco trip was to discuss a free-trade agreement, and that American liquified natural gas exports were brought up by ambassador of Morocco. Carper and Whitehouse argue that the "issue that does not fall within the jurisdiction of the EPA."
The EPA inspector general opened an audit of Pruitt's Tulsa travel that eventually expanded into all of his 2017 travel, including his expensive trips to Morocco and Italy.
Pruitt has since drawn scrutiny for several other controversial decisions, including the 24/7 security detail, a below-market-rate lease from an energy industry lobbyist and massive raises given to close aides, one of whom he described as a friend.