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Lobbyist helped arrange Scott Pruitt Morocco trip, now earns $40,000 from Moroccan government: Report

Last Updated May 2, 2018 3:19 PM EDT

The lobbyist who helped arrange embattled Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt's pricey government trip to Morocco last year now has a $40,000-a-month contract to lobby for the Moroccan government, according to the Washington Post.

The Post reports the trip cost $100,000 -- far more than the $40,000 the Associated Press initially reported -- and, citing four individuals familiar with the preparations for the trip, said lobbyist and longtime Pruitt friend Richard Smotkin was intricately involved in the planning of the December 2017 trip. According to federal records first reported by the Post, Smotkin was contracted to lobby for the Moroccan government in April, in an agreement retroactive to January 1 of this year that pays $40,000 a month for 12 months, or $480,000 in total.

Smotkin registered as a foreign agent on April 13, with the "Embassy of Morocco" listed as the foreign principal he will be working for, according to federal records. Smotkin listed his expected political activity as executing a "PR campaign." The Post reported Smotkin attended some of the events on the Morocco trip, and served as a liaison of sorts for much of the trip.  Five security staffers joined Pruitt on the trip, bringing the total to 13 EPA staffers.

Pruitt and Smotkin have known each other for a while. CBS News' Laura Strickler reports Pruitt had dinner with Smotkin just 10 days after Pruitt took office, according to Pruitt's calendar. When Pruitt was Oklahoma attorney general and Smotkin was at Comcast and responsible for interacting with attorneys general like Pruitt, Comcast gave the Republican Attorney General Association that Pruitt ran more than $250,000 from 2015 to 2017, according to IRS records. 

Asked if the EPA had any additional comment about Smotkin, a spokesman to the EPA referred CBS News to a statement Pruitt gave at the time of the trip in December.

"These meetings allowed us to directly convey our priorities and best practices with Moroccan leaders, as well as identify opportunities for continued cooperation, as our two countries further talks around the Environmental Work Plan. We are committed to working closely with countries like Morocco to enhance environmental stewardship around the world," Pruitt said in a statement at the time. 

The EPA says official offices organized and led the Morocco trip and surrounding events.

"EPA's Office of International and Tribal Affairs organized and led the effort around Administrator Pruitt's official meetings with Morocco, the Holy See and the G-7 Summit in Italy," EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said. 

Wilcox said Smotkin had some involvement in helping arrange an Oct. 25, 2017 meeting with the Moroccan ambassador, but attended no official meetings with the Moroccan government. Wilcox also said Pruitt was unaware that Smotkin was considering representing a foreign government. 

Pruitt's Morocco trip entailed encouraging the North African country to import liquefied natural gas from the U.S., activities that were questioned when Pruitt was grilled on Capitol Hill last week. The purpose of Pruitt's trip to Morocco has also been questioned because Cheniere Energy, currently the sole exporter of liquefied natural gas from the continental U.S., is a lobbying client of the then-firm of Steven Hart. Hart's wife, Vicki Hart, co-owned the condo where Pruitt stayed for more than five months last year for $50 a night, another Pruitt controversy that has garnered attention. 

Mr. Trump has continued to approve of Pruitt's job in office, even as the criticisms of Pruitt's conduct continue. Amid the controversies, Pruitt confirmed the resignations of two top EPA officials this week -- the head of Pruitt's security detail, and a senior adviser. Albert "Kell" Kelly has resigned as a senior adviser at the EPA running Pruitt's Superfund task force, as has Nino Perrotta, head of Pruitt's highly scrutinized, around-the-clock security detail. Perrotta had planned to retire this summer.

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.