It’s proving impossible to predict the end of Scott Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA, considering how long he’s held on despite having 11 different federal inquiries currently ongoing into his bad decisions. But Pruitt, bless him, just keeps piling on.
The Washington Post reports that a six-figure, four-day trip that Pruitt took to Morocco in December involved former Comcast lobbyist Richard Smotkin from start to finish. Smotkin, according to the Post, “accompanied Pruitt and his entourage at multiple stops and served as an informal liaison at both official and social events during the visit.” Sounds bad!
The EPA admitted that Smotkin “assisted in arranging” a meeting between Pruitt and the Moroccan ambassador to the U.S., Princess Lalla Joumala, while and Smotkin reportedly later helped Pruitt aides plan the trip:
Smotkin worked with two of Pruitt’s top aides, senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt and then-deputy advance director Millan Hupp, to line up specific aspects of the agenda, according to four individuals familiar with the process, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the agency’s internal workings.
For example, Smotkin discussed the prospect of Pruitt speaking at the Atlantic Dialogues, a conference in Marrakesh underwritten by the OCP Center, the think-tank arm of a major phosphate export firm in Morocco. Pruitt later canceled his appearance.
Smotkin also tagged along on the trip itself, which included one particularly on the nose detail (emphasis mine):
nlike most Cabinet-level travel, for which the agenda and policy outcomes are finalized weeks in advance, Pruitt’s office changed the schedule even while he was there, according to several individuals familiar with the visit. Though the EPA chief did visit a solar power research installation, he canceled a public appearance with an energy efficiency expert at an international conference in Marrakesh and instead met with the chairman of a massive phosphate exporter.
Smotkin attended both the green-energy park visit and the meeting with the phosphate executive. He also joined Pruitt for dinner on the EPA chief’s final night in Marrakesh, the EPA confirmed.
According to the Post, Smotkin won a $40,000-a-month public relations contract in April with the Moroccan government (retroactive to January 1) “to promote the kingdom’s cultural and economic interests,” and recently registered as a foreign agent of Morocco.
Prior to this revelation, Pruitt’s Morocco trip was already under scrutiny, raising questions like, “Does Scott Pruitt know he’s not the Secretary of Energy?”
“I can’t, for the life of me, imagine why an EPA administrator would be over there promoting energy sales,” Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine said at an oversight hearing last week. “We have a Department of Energy. You should be thinking much more about some of the challenges with [liquefied natural gas], and why you would be on the other side.”
You probably don’t need an ethics expert to tell you that all of this looks terrible, but here’s one’s take anyway. “It shows, at the very least, a tremendous amount of sloppiness, and it raises ethical issues about the relationship between Smotkin and Pruitt,” Larry Noble of the Campaign Legal Center told the Post. “If Pruitt did this to benefit Smotkin and did this to show that Smotkin has an in with the EPA administrator, then he’s using his official office to benefit a private person.”
Scott Pruitt, “using his official office to benefit a private person?” Never.