Ex-lobbyist helped plan scuttled Pruitt trip to Australia, emails show

A Washington consultant who has lobbied for foreign governments in the past helped the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prepare for a trip that administrator Scott Pruitt and his staff were to take last year, according to emails obtained by the Sierra Club and subsequently CBS News. 

According to those internal EPA emails, first reported by the New York Times, Matthew Freedman, the CEO of the firm Global Impact, Inc., was closely involved in the details of planning the trip, in which Pruitt was supposed to meet with Australian officials about environmental issues. The trip was ultimately canceled because of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, but the EPA had reportedly already spent $45,000 planning it. Freedman was picked to work on Mr. Trump’s presidential transition team, but was removed after Vice President-elect Mike Pence decided to purge those with lobbying connections from the team.

Freedman’s involvement is merely the latest headache for the EPA, after the Washington Post first reported Tuesday that an acquaintance of Pruitt’s who helped with some planning of a December EPA trip to Morocco signed an agreement in April to lobby for the Moroccan government for $40,000 a month

Freedman isn’t currently registered as a foreign lobbyist, according to available federal records. But in the 1980s, he worked with the now-indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to buoy Philippine strongman leader Ferdinand Marcos, Politico reported. According to a Department of Justice database, Freedman last registered as a foreign agent in 1998. 

Freedman is a current officer of the American Australian Council, which helps promote business between the two nations. But the emails obtained by the Sierra Club through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that, although Freedman gave input and looked to arrange meetings last summer, he would not be listed as a member of the delegation ahead of the anticipated trip. 

“Thanks Rick for putting together this call,” Freedman emailed to top EPA aide Millan Hupp on June 22, 2017, also including the now-lobbyist for the Moroccan government, Richard Smotkin. “Look forward to continuing the dialogue. One initial step would be to get a better sense of the current U.S. Australian environmental agreements that are currently in place and whether they should be changed or updated or canceled and replaced with others. I spoke with my friends at U.S. Pacific Fleet Command and they have numerous environmental and maritime issues they would be interested in furthering.”

Hupp responded later that afternoon: “Matthew — looping in Sarah (Greenwalt) here as she will be our lead on building out the administrator’s schedule for this trip. She was also on the call and will assist us in working with our international team to begin working on these initial steps.”

The conversations continued over email, as they looked for a chance to discuss the upcoming trip further. Freedman said he had been “in direct contact” with a minister in Australia, and would be speaking with the minister’s senior staffer soon. 

“Rick and I will be present but not listed as members of the delegation,” Freedman wrote, referencing Smotkin, in one email. 

The EPA pointed out Freedman is not currently registered as a lobbyist.

“Matthew Freedman is not a lobbyist,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said. “He attended the BCIU Roundtable on June 20, 2017 but organization for this trip began well before that event.” 

Wilcox noted that the EPA was responsible for organizing and leading the planned trip. 

“EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs organized and led the effort around Administrator Pruitt’s trip to Australia,” Wilcox said. “This trip was cancelled due to Hurricane Harvey and it has not been rescheduled.” 

The Executive Board of the American Australian Council confirmed to CBS News that it authorized Freedman to have discussions with the EPA. 

“As a bipartisan nonprofit foundation, the American Australian Council’s (AAU) mission is to promote the special relationship between the US and Australia,” the AAU said in a statement. “We work to enhance longstanding special channels of trust that deepens existing bilateral communications and activities. To further the mission of the AAC, the organization authorized board member Matthew Freedman to have discussions with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The organization sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on July 19, 2017 asking whether the AAC might host him in an unofficial capacity during his planned visit to Australia in 2017.”

The Sierra Club described the relationship between the EPA and Freedman as “collusion.”

“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,” Sierra Club director Michael Brune said in a statement. “This level of collusion between an EPA head and corporate lobbyists is an unprecedented violation of taxpayer resources and the public’s trust. Pruitt’s deep-rooted corruption is an indictment of the Trump Administration and will keep raising questions Trump and his supporters will be forced to answer until Pruitt resigns or is fired.”

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