This post has been updated.
A Washington-based consultant who had served as a lobbyist for foreign governments helped arrange a trip that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt planned to take to Australia last year, according to federal records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Matthew C. Freedman, chief executive of the firm Global Impact Inc., worked with one of Pruitt’s top aides and another longtime ally of the administrator, lobbyist Richard Smotkin, to set up meetings in Australia. The trip was scheduled to take place in late August and early September, but Pruitt canceled the travel shortly before his departure so he could survey Hurricane Harvey damage in Texas.
Freedman has previously worked for controversial foreign leaders such as former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos and the Nigerian government. He is not currently registered as a lobbyist but serves as treasurer for the American Australian Council that promotes economic ties between the two countries.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday Smotkin played a key role in brokering a December trip Pruitt took to Morocco that cost taxpayers about $100,000. Smotkin, who accompanied Pruitt for much of that journey and served as an informal liaison between EPA and Moroccan officials, subsequently signed a $40,000-a-month contract with the Moroccan government that was retroactive to Jan. 1.
The 2017 email exchanges between Freedman and Millan Hupp — who at the time served as EPA’s deputy director of scheduling and advance — and other Pruitt aides were obtained through litigation by the Sierra Club, an advocacy group. The New York Times first reported on the documents Wednesday afternoon, along with a separate memo showing a lobbyist, whose wife rented Pruitt a room at a discounted rate, weighed in on appointments to the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board.
On June 22, according to one email obtained by the Sierra Club, Smotkin messaged Hupp with the subject line “connecting.” He added Freedman’s contact details and wrote, “Connecting you with Matt so you have his email.”
Freedman wasted no time in offering ideas for Pruitt’s trip — and reasons on which he could base an official visit.
“One initial step would be to get a better sense of the current US Australian environmental agreements that are currently in place and whether they should be changed or updated or canceled and replaced with others,” he wrote. “It would be relatively easy to put together a joint advisory task force on environment issues thus creating a new mechanism for ongoing discussions.”
He added, “I spoke with my friends at US Pacific Fleet Command and they have numerous environmental and maritime issues they would be interested in furthering.”
Hupp soon looped in Pruitt’s senior counsel, Sarah Greenwalt, saying she would “be the lead in building out the Administrator’s schedule for this trip.”
A day later, Freedman wrote back to suggest a “face to face” conversation with the EPA team to help in the planning. Apparently aware of Pruitt’s insistence on flying Delta whenever possible, he wrote, “PS Delta does fly into Sydney from LA.”
Freedman later suggested a call “once or twice a week” with EPA officials arranging the trip, and he said he had been in touch with top Australian officials. He soon sent various ideas for the itinerary — listing official stops and tourist destinations. “I urge consideration of some type of deliverable” to solidify the trip objectives to “blunt any criticism in the future,” he wrote.
The consultant also suggested Pruitt meet with a range of Australian officials, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
Meanwhile, he offered sightseeing possibilities Pruitt might enjoy: a walk around Sydney Harbor, a ferry ride and a water taxi ride to a place called the Boathouse for breakfast. He also suggested traveling to the Outback — “quite an experience” — but noted it would require a full 24 hours and could conflict with a planned visit to a liquefied natural gas plant.
In an email on July 10, Freedman made clear to EPA aides that despite all his input, his involvement and that of Smotkin’s should not be widely known.
“Rick and I will attend and will be present but will not be listed as members of the delegation. Also, I will make all arrangements for us; we do not want to utilize any [U.S. government] assets for our involvement,” he wrote.
Freedman did not comment Wednesday but shared a statement from the executive board of the bipartisan, nonprofit American Australian Council. “The organization authorized board member Matthew Freedman to have discussions with the Environmental Protection Agency,” the statement read, adding that the group had written Pruitt last year asking whether it “might host him in an unofficial capacity during his planned visit.”
At the EPA, spokesman Jahan Wilcox said Wednesday that the agency’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs had “organized and led the effort” around Pruitt’s anticipated trip. Freedman is not a lobbyist, Wilcox noted in an email, and had attended a June 20 roundtable of the Business Council for International Understanding. “But organization for this trip began well before that event.”
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement Wednesday that “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.”
While Pruitt ultimately canceled the trip in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, travel vouchers show a handful of EPA aides and security officials spent roughly $45,000 traveling to Australia to prepare for the EPA chief’s visit. Records show it also cost the agency an additional $1,922 to cancel various flight and hotel reservations for him.
The newly released records provide further evidence of how Smotkin served as an intermediary between Pruitt’s advisers and the Moroccan government he now represents as a lobbyist. In a Nov. 30 email, Moroccan Embassy political counselor Isam Taib told Hupp and Greenwalt that he’d learned of changes to Pruitt’s upcoming trip from “Rick,” apparently referring to Smotkin.
“I believe there are some new updates from what I understood from Rick this morning,” wrote Taib, who later signed Smotkin’s lobbying contract.
Taib explained that he and others were trying to set up a meeting between Pruitt and the chairman of OCP, a major phosphates exporter. The administrator ultimately met with that executive, Mostafa Terrab, on Dec. 12. Smotkin was in attendance.
A separate memo released by congressional Democrats on Tuesday shows J. Stephen Hart, whose wife charged Pruitt $50 a night on the days when he stayed in her Capitol Hill condo, urged Pruitt’s chief of staff to appoint three individuals to serve as scientific advisers to the agency. Pruitt last year made major changes to the EPA’s scientific advisory panels, barring any outside researchers from serving if they were simultaneously receiving grants from the agency.
In the Aug. 10 email to Ryan Jackson — sent less than a week after Pruitt moved out of that condo — Hart suggests Pruitt appoint his friend Dennis Treacy, president of the Smithfield Foundation, along with two other individuals whose names have been redacted. A month before, Hart had arranged for Treacy to meet Pruitt to discuss issues related to the Chesapeake Bay.
“This email is further proof that Administrator Pruitt has consistently misled Congress and the public about the extent to which the special interests providing him with gifts have sought specific favors from EPA in return,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “This culture of corruption has diverted public funds to special interests and could undermine all of the important work the EPA does.”