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Lobbyist tied to Scott Pruitt’s condo rental pushed for EPA to hire family friend, emails show

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Evan Vucci | AP
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt listens as President Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House, Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Washington.

WASHINGTON — The lobbyist whose wife rented Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt a room in a Capitol Hill condo at a discounted rate lobbied Pruitt’s chief of staff to hire a family friend, according to recently released agency emails.

Steven Hart, who served as chairman of the law firm Williams and Jensen until earlier this year, contacted Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, on administration policies affecting his clients and potential appointments to the EPA’s scientific advisory boards and possible agency hires.

The emails, released in response to a lawsuit by the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group, show that both Hart and his wife — who rented Pruitt a condo for $50 a night, which he paid only on nights he stayed there — pushed for the EPA to hire Jimmy Guilliano, a recent college graduate.

“I seldom talk to Scott but Vicki does,” Hart wrote to Jackson. “She has talked to Scott about this kid who is important to us. He told Vicki to talk to you about how to handle this. I am not sure personally that this is a good idea for Jimmy unless he is working near you. Sticking him down in the bowels is death at EPA. His family is all Naval Academy by the way.”

In an email Sunday, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said that the agency did not hire Guilliano and that the agency stands by its previous statement that Hart did not lobby the agency.

“The Agency accepts career recommendations from a number of acquaintances. Ultimately, Mr. Guilliano was not hired,” Wilcox wrote, adding that when it came to Hart’s other correspondence with Jackson, “Many of these emails were unsolicited and did not impact any Agency policy outcomes.”

This spring, Hart said in interview with The Washington Post and other outlets that he did no EPA lobbying during 2017 or 2018, but his former firm amended his lobbying disclosure documents this month to reflect that he worked on behalf of Coca-Cola, the Financial Oversight and Management Control Board of Puerto Rico and Smithfield Foods.

Hart and Jackson, both Oklahomans, knew each other before Pruitt took the helm of the EPA. The emails show that the lobbyist repeatedly contacted Jackson on several topics, asking him to arrange meetings for his clients and place allies of his in different EPA jobs.

Hart worked to place candidates on the agency’s Scientific Advisory Board, which helps guide the EPA’s research, though those efforts did not appear to bear fruit. Pruitt revamped the membership of several EPA advisory panels last fall, adding officials allied with industry groups while barring any researchers from serving if they were simultaneously receiving EPA grants.

At one point, for example, Hart wrote Jackson that he wanted “to highlight three candidates for the Science Advisory Board, who were nominated by our client, Dennis Treacy, the President of the Smithfield Foundation.”

At other point, while emailing Jackson on the issue, Hart wrote, “We need to smoke a cigar soon.” Hart hosted cigar parties in the same condo apartment complex where Pruitt stayed between February and August 2017.

Wilcox said the candidates Hart had suggested “were not considered. Because their names are redacted, they were not selected.”

In a statement Sunday, Hart said, “I never received any special treatment from Administrator Pruitt or had any undue influence over the Environmental Protection Agency. Ryan Jackson is an old friend whom I have know for many years prior to his service with the EPA.”

“We have discussed numerous issues and topics during his tenure as chief of staff, but he has never performed a special favor on my behalf,” Hart added.

Pruitt’s rental arrangement with Vicki Hart is under scrutiny by the House Oversight and Government Relations Committee, as well as the EPA’s Office of Inspector General.

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