Political News

Pruitt Sought ‘Business Opportunity’ With Chick-fil-A While Leading EPA

Posted June 5, 2018 11:30 p.m. EDT
Updated June 5, 2018 11:36 p.m. EDT

Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, gave a political aide the task of helping him seek a “business opportunity” for his wife with the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A.

Emails released to the Sierra Club under the Freedom of Information Act show that Sydney Hupp, a former scheduler for Pruitt, contacted Chick-fil-A’s chief executive, Dan T. Cathy, in May 2017 at Pruitt’s behest to set up a meeting.

After a back-and-forth in which Hupp initially said the administrator “didn’t mention a specific topic” of discussion, she told the company’s director of regulatory affairs that Pruitt’s request was of a personal nature. “The Administrator would like to talk about a potential business opportunity with Mr. Cathy. Nothing very pressing, just hoping to connect sometime in the next month or so,” Hupp wrote.

Pruitt ultimately spoke by phone with Chick-fil-A representatives.

Cathy, reached by phone, referred questions to a company spokeswoman, Carrie Kurlander. Kurlander said she would not comment further. In an email to The Washington Post, which first reported Pruitt’s effort to seek a business deal with Chick-fil-A, Kurlander had said the call was about the possibility of Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn, opening a franchise of the fast-food chain. Kurlander told the Post that Marlyn Pruitt never completed the franchisee application.

Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the EPA, did not respond to a request for comment.

Michael Brune, executive director for the Sierra Club, in a statement said Pruitt had been engaged in “unethically and illegally seeking personal benefits because of the job Donald Trump has entrusted him with.”

The revelation that Pruitt asked an EPA employee to help coordinate efforts to seek a personal business opportunity comes amid a wave of investigations into the administrator’s spending and management decisions including his first-class travel and spending on security, as well as his decision last year to accept a $50-a-night lease on a condominium from the wife of a lobbyist with business before his agency. Currently Pruitt faces 12 federal investigations.

It also comes on the heels of a transcript released by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, one of the bodies investigating Pruitt, showing that he tasked Hupp’s sister, Millan Hupp, with personal errands including procuring a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

In addition, Millan Hupp, who currently serves as Pruitt’s scheduler, arranged personal travel for the administrator, including to the Rose Bowl game in California. She also went apartment hunting for him when he was moving out of the lobbyist’s condo on Capitol Hill. Federal ethics standards prohibit such personal assistance by a subordinate, even if the employee is working outside of office hours.

The news prompted outrage from Democrats on Capitol Hill as well as some Republicans. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who has been Pruitt’s longtime political patron, told CBS News that if the details proved to be accurate, “it would not be a good thing.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday she had not spoken with Trump about Pruitt’s dealings with Chick-fil-A. “We continue to have concerns and look into those, and we’ll address them,” she said of the earlier ethics questions that have been raised about Pruitt’s oversight of the agency.

Larry Noble, a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission, said if Pruitt used the power of his office to seek a personal benefit for his wife, that could be a crime. But because Marlyn Pruitt apparently did not follow through with the venture, it might not be prosecuted as such, he said.

Having a subordinate like Millan Hupp perform personal duties, paid or unpaid, violates civil statutes, Noble said. “The problem with it is, when you are somebody’s superior there’s always the danger of coercion,” he said. “You don’t have them wash your car. You don’t have them walk your dog. And you don’t have them try to buy a used mattress from a hotel.”