A former Comcast lobbyist who has known Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt for years spent several months helping arrange the trip Pruitt took to Morocco last December, four people with knowledge of the matter told The Washington Post.
Richard Smotkin accompanied Pruitt on the four-day trip, joining him at several stops, the Post says, and in April, he won a $40,000-a-month contract with the Moroccan government, retroactive to Jan. 1, to promote the country's cultural and economic interests. The trip has raised eyebrows because it's not clear what it had to do with advancing the mission of the EPA, and it cost more than $100,000, the Post reports, with eight staffers and round-the-clock security along for the ride. The EPA has said the trip was made in order to complete a bilateral trade agreement.
Ethics experts say it is very unusual for someone outside of the U.S. government to assist with making travel arrangements for a federal agency head. "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, senior director and general counsel at 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." Smotkin did not return the Post's calls or emails asking for comment.