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New Emails Suggest Scott Pruitt Discussed Hiring a Friend of Lobbyist Landlord


© Doug Mills/The New York Times
Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, at the White House on Thursday. New emails contradict his statements about his ties to a lobbyist couple.


Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, discussed hiring a friend of a lobbyist family that owned a condominium he was renting for $50 a night, newly released emails suggest. The files also show communications involving the lobbyist’s client interests that have not previously been disclosed, suggesting a closer relationship between the lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, and the agency than previously known.

The emails, released as part of a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, an environmental group, contradict early assertions by Mr. Pruitt and Mr. Hart that Mr. Hart hadn’t lobbied the E.P.A. last year after concerns arose that Mr. Hart’s wife had rented the condo to Mr. Pruitt.

The potential hiring of Mr. Hart’s family friend was discussed in emails between Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, and Mr. Hart, who was chairman of the Washington lobbying firm Williams & Jensen and whose wife, Vicki Hart, rented the condo to Mr. Pruitt. Other subjects discussed during and after Mr. Pruitt rented Ms. Hart’s condo included refrigerant chemicals, which was raised on behalf of Coca-Cola, and the Paris Agreement — the global climate pact to address climate change — discussed on behalf of the global bank HSBC.

The emails also show that Mr. Hart suggested other potential hires to the E.P.A., including one person who he emphasized was a Republican and an African-American, on behalf of an executive of the philanthropic arm of the pork giant Smithfield Foods.

The effort to find employment for the Harts’ family friend, Jimmy Guiliano, a recent college graduate who had applied for a policy position at E.P.A., came in April 2017, when Mr. Pruitt was living in Vicki Hart’s condo. Attaching the young man’s résumé, Mr. Hart told Mr. Jackson that his wife “has talked to Scott about this kid who is important to us. He told Vicki to talk to you about how to handle this.”

“On it,” Mr. Jackson responded.

The emails offer a deeper look inside Mr. Hart’s relationship with the E.P.A., where he was on friendly terms with the administrator’s chief of staff. In the months since it was reported that Mr. Pruitt rented the $50-a-night condo, located in an upscale Washington neighborhood, Mr. Hart, Mr. Pruitt and the E.P.A. have offered several explanations of the relationship.

After initially saying Mr. Hart had not represented clients with business before the E.P.A., Mr. Hart’s former firm in June filed new lobbying disclosure forms to acknowledge he had in fact advocated on behalf of Coca-Cola, the Financial Oversight and Management Control Board of Puerto Rico and Smithfield Foods.

Mr. Pruitt told Fox News on April 4 that Mr. Hart did not lobby the E.P.A. Agency officials have said to The New York Times that the housing arrangement was consistent with federal ethics regulations and that Mr. Pruitt paid market rates, and as a result renting the unit did not represent a gift (which would be prohibited by federal ethics laws).

Mr. Pruitt faces 13 federal investigations into his spending and management practices. At least two of those are aimed at Mr. Pruitt’s living arrangements and the circumstances of his $50-a-night lease for the days he slept in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Mr. Pruitt lived in the condo from the time he moved to Washington at the beginning of the Trump administration through July 2017, according to the E.P.A.

In a statement through his spokesman, Mr. Hart said his wife’s status as Mr. Pruitt’s landlord had no bearing on his relationship with the E.P.A. “As I have said repeatedly, I never received any special treatment from Administrator Pruitt or had any undue influence over the Environmental Protection Agency,” Mr. Hart said. He called Mr. Jackson “an old friend” from before his time at the E.P.A. who “has never performed a special favor on my behalf.”

The emails about Mr. Guiliano continued in May when Mr. Hart, copying his wife, Vicki, emailed Mr. Jackson to say that the applicant would soon be in town. “Would you have time to meet with him?” Mr. Hart asked.

There is no response to that from Mr. Jackson in the emails released, and it is unclear whether a meeting happened. But Mr. Guiliano did not get a job at the E.P.A., according to an agency spokesman.

Mr. Guiliano did not respond to a request for comment sent via Facebook.

Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for Mr. Pruitt, said in a statement that the correspondence did not indicate any impropriety on the part of the E.P.A. or Mr. Jackson. He noted that Mr. Hart and Mr. Jackson have known one another for years. “Many of these emails were unsolicited and did not impact any agency policy outcomes,” Mr. Wilcox said.

Regarding Mr. Guiliano, he said, “The agency accepts career recommendations from a number of acquaintances. Ultimately, Mr. Guiliano was not hired.”

According to the newly released E.P.A. emails, on Aug. 21 last year, Mr. Hart emailed Mr. Jackson on behalf of Coca-Cola to oppose regulating a class of chemicals called hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are used in refrigeration, car air conditioning and aerosols. Replacement chemicals raise problems for companies, he wrote, and he cautioned that they may be dangerous.

“Some large U.S. companies like Coca-Cola have to make long-term investment decisions relating to their refrigerated beverage machines,” Mr. Hart said. “There are all sorts of technical issues that arise when you get rid of HFCs. One is consumer safety. I kept hearing that the replacement technology had some problems — exploding vending machines. Thoughts?”

The same month, Mr. Hart also put forward three candidates suggested by Dennis Treacy, president of Smithfield Foundation, the pork company’s philanthropic arm, for the prestigious E.P.A. Science Advisory Board. The candidates’ names were redacted in the emails released by the E.P.A.

He also forwarded a hiring recommendation from Mr. Treacy about another potential job candidate. “As a reminder,” Mr. Hart told Mr. Jackson that the candidate “is African-American and Republican.” Mr. Jackson replied that he had met him and liked him.

The emails do not specify a position being applied for, and Mr. Wilcox said the individual was not hired.

Mr. Hart also discussed with Mr. Jackson the Paris Agreement and in May 2017 advised an executive at HSBC to speak to Mr. Jackson about the climate treaty’s fate, the emails show. (President Trump has vowed to withdraw the United States from the Paris accord.)

And in November, Mr. Hart offered to encourage a senator to approve an E.P.A. nominee. In that exchange, Mr. Hart emailed Mr. Jackson to tell him that he would be dining with Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, and pasted a copy of an article questioning whether the Senate would confirm Michael L. Dourson to lead the E.P.A.’s chemical safety office.

“Having dinner with Burr tonight — should I try to move him or want to just give up?” Mr. Dourson eventually withdrew his name from consideration for the post. Mr. Burr’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said the emails showed an inappropriate relationship between Mr. Pruitt and his landlords. “We now have concrete evidence that Scott Pruitt offered to use taxpayer resources to do favors for the lobbyist who gave him a sweetheart deal on a D.C. condo,” he said.

The federal government’s Standards of Ethical Conduct guidelines urge agency officials to “avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating the law or the ethical standards.”

Both Mr. Hart and Mr. Jackson are from Oklahoma, and a number of the exchanges suggest a friendly relationship that bridges the personal and professional. Last September, Mr. Hart joked that Mr. Jackson’s former boss, the conservative Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, had voted to raise the nation’s debt limit. “This exposes you as a liberal,” Mr. Hart teased Mr. Jackson, before adding, “We need to smoke a cigar soon.”

“Don’t tell anyone my secret,” Mr. Jackson replied.


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Politics - U.S. Daily News: New Emails Suggest Scott Pruitt Discussed Hiring a Friend of Lobbyist Landlord
New Emails Suggest Scott Pruitt Discussed Hiring a Friend of Lobbyist Landlord
Politics - U.S. Daily News
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