Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt dined at one of Rome’s finest restaurants at the expense of a top official at the conservative Federalist Society, agency officials confirmed Monday, only to reimburse him later.
The meal at Al Ceppo, first reported by the New York Times, was one of several events that Leonard Leo, Federalist Society executive vice president, set up for Pruitt during his trip to Italy last June. Leo, a longtime Pruitt confidant and prominent American Catholic, personally arranged multiple events at the Vatican as well as three separate meals that included high-ranking Vatican officials.
Asked about the June dinner, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said Pruitt was allowed to accept the meal as a gift, given the two men’s personal relationship, but subsequently reimbursed Leo for the cost. Wilcox did not answer questions concerning the cost of the meal, when the payment was made and whether Pruitt reimbursed Leo for the lunch and dinner he hosted the following day in Rome.
“Administrator Pruitt and Leonard Leo are longtime close friends, and more, Mr. Leo is not a lobbyist. As such, the meals are allowable as a gift under federal law,” Wilcox said. “However, the Administrator chose to pay for the meals and not accept the allowable gift.”
In addition to arranging for three meals in the city, according to a trip participant, Leo scheduled a private tour of the Vatican Library, the Scavi (the Vatican necropolis) and the Apostolic Palace for Pruitt and his top aides over the span of two days.
The Washington Post reported last week that when Pruitt left a private Vatican Mass for a discussion of environmental policy with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, he invited Leo to join the meeting, according to two trip participants.
Pruitt worked with Leo while serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general, challenging several of the Obama administration’s domestic policies. Since joining President Trump’s Cabinet, Pruitt has headlined multiple events at the Federalist Society, a group of lawyers who advocate conservative public policies.