EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt held a meeting with lobbyist J. Steven Hart during the time last year that Hart’s wife rented him a room, a spokesman for Hart has confirmed to CNN.
The session also included a former executive vice president for Smithfield Foods, who is on the board of a nonprofit that the company describes as its philanthropic arm and is also a member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which works to improve conditions in the bay.
Pruitt has said the lobbyist had no clients with business before the agency, and Hart told E&E News last month that he has not lobbied the agency in the last two years.
Hart and Smithfield maintain that the meeting was personal, not business-related.
“I assisted a friend who served on the Chesapeake Bay Commission, and this is inaccurately being tied to Smithfield Foods,” Hart said in a statement to CNN. “I was not paid for this assistance, and any suggestion that I lobbied for Smithfield Foods is inaccurate.”
The reports are the latest twist in a story that has embroiled the EPA chief in controversy in recent weeks, adding to a string of ethically questionable arrangements or actions on his part that have surfaced over the past year.
At the end of March, ABC News reported that when Pruitt first moved to Washington, he lived in a condo co-owned by Vicki Hart, the wife of J. Steven Hart. Bloomberg later reported that Pruitt was able to pay just $50 per night for a single bedroom in the condo.
Pruitt has defended the arrangement and notably claimed that “Mr. Hart has no clients that have business before this agency” in an interview with Fox News earlier this month.
But a lobbying disclosure filing reported on by Politico, The Times and other outlets states that Hart was registered in the first quarter of 2018 to lobby the EPA on “issues relating to support for EPA Chesapeake Bay Programs” on behalf of Smithfield Foods.
CNN obtained a note Hart sent to colleagues at the lobbying firm on Friday announcing that he had decided to move up his departure from the firm, which had been planned for November.
“Considering the last couple of weeks, I think it is easier on my family and the firm to expedite my departure,” Hart wrote.
In a statement to CNN, Smithfield Foods said the company “has learned Williams & Jensen has advocated in support of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs to help the Chesapeake Bay. The objective, while laudable, was not undertaken at the direction of or on behalf of Smithfield Foods. These activities were conducted at the request of a then former executive and current Smithfield Foundation board member, Dennis Treacy, in his personal capacity.”
The EPA did not immediately return a request for comment from CNN. An EPA spokesman told Politico that the agency had “no knowledge of any facts that precipitated Williams & Jensen electing to make this filing,” in reference to the lobbying disclosure.
The controversy over Pruitt’s housing situation has frustrated White House officials, CNN has previously reported. President Trump, however, has publicly defended Pruitt. “Scott is doing a great job!,” the President tweeted earlier this month.