Political News

Onetime Lobbyist for Foreign Governments Helped Plan a Pruitt Trip to Australia

Posted May 2, 2018 3:45 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — A Washington consultant and onetime lobbyist for foreign governments played a central role in attempting to set up a trip to Australia by Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, while the consultant took steps to disguise his role, new documents released this week show.

The disclosures add to the list of individuals from outside the government who have worked to influence foreign travel by Pruitt. The Australia trip, which was planned for late last year but never took place, was being promoted by Matthew C. Freedman, the chief executive of a consulting firm, Global Impact Inc.

Freedman has spent decades as an international political consultant and lobbyist, starting in the 1980s as an employee of Paul Manafort when the two men worked together to help the embattled Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Manafort later became Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, and many of his former lobbying associates entered Trump’s orbit.

Freedman worked on Trump’s transition team in late 2016. He was removed after he was found to be conducting government business using an email address associated with his consulting firm.

Freedman could not be reached for comment. The EPA did not immediately respond to questions about Freedman’s involvement in the Australia trip.

Freedman has long been active as a consultant in Australia and serves as treasurer of the American Australian Council, a group that helps promote business for U.S.-based companies that operate in Australia by strengthening ties between the two nations. Two prominent members include Chevron and ConocoPhillips.

Freedman used an email address similar to the one he used during the presidential transition to coordinate the Australia trip with EPA officials and another lobbyist, Richard Smotkin, who has long-standing ties to Pruitt. Smotkin also helped organize a different foreign trip taken by Pruitt — to Morocco in December — and then four months later signed a $40,000-a-month contract to represent an arm of the government of that North African country.

The emails, which were released under the Freedom of Information Act to the Sierra Club after a lawsuit, show that Freedman repeatedly communicated in June with Millan Hupp, a top political aide to Pruitt. Hupp also worked with Pruitt as a political assistant when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement, “It’s no wonder these emails had to be forced out by a court: They expose the fact that corporate lobbyists are orchestrating Pruitt’s taxpayer-funded trips to push their dangerous agendas.”

Freedman is not registered as a lobbyist for the government of Australia, nor is he currently registered to lobby on behalf of any foreign or domestic clients in the United States, according to records on file with Congress and the Department of Justice. They show that a now-inactive firm he had formed with Manafort was last registered to lobby in the late 1990s, when it represented the government of Nigeria and Argentine politician Alberto Pierri.

Freedman’s associates say he continues to advise international clients in various capacities that do not trigger lobbying disclosure requirements.

In the emails, Freedman offered Hupp a series of suggestions as to whom Pruitt could meet with on the trip to Australia. Freedman said he had already been talking to top government officials there to get the planning started.

“I’ve been in direct contact with the Minister in Aus, and we will be speaking with his senior staffer (Cosi) who is the lead from their side on Monday night,” Freedman wrote to Hupp in late June, as the planning for the trip got underway. “Also, Jim Carouso, the Charge at the US Emb in Canberra is a close personal friend and would likely have good inputs, but I want to wait a bit before i contact him.”

Freedman, in a separate email, suggested that Pruitt meet with top Australian officials including Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Freedman went on to suggest topics that could be discussed at the meeting, including “the current US Australian environmental agreements that are currently in place and whether they should be changed or updated or canceled or replaced.”

Freedman placed a condition on the assistance he was providing: His involvement should not be disclosed.

“Rick and I will be present but not listed as members of the delegation,” Freedman wrote, referring to Smotkin.

Hupp’s input in these email exchanges was short, with notes back to Freedman like “Sounds good. We will plan for Monday morning,” in response to a request in July from Freedman to discuss the Australia trip.

The Australian embassy did not respond to a question about whether Freedman was representing the country in planning the trip.

The trip to Australia was ultimately canceled after Hurricane Harvey struck, but vouchers previously released by the EPA show that two aides and three security officials spent about $45,000 traveling there to set up meetings and prepare for Pruitt’s arrival.