WASHINGTON – A Washington consultant and onetime lobbyist for foreign governments played a central role in attempting to set up a trip to Australia by Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, while the consultant took steps to disguise his role, new documents released this week show.
The disclosures add to the list of individuals from outside the government who have worked to influence foreign travel by Pruitt. The Australia trip, which was planned for late last year but never took place, was being promoted by Matthew C. Freedman, the chief executive of a consulting firm, Global Impact Inc.
Freedman has spent decades as an international political consultant and lobbyist, starting in the 1980s as an employee of Paul Manafort when the two men worked together to help the embattled Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Manafort later became Donald Trump's campaign chairman, and many of his former lobbying associates entered Trump's orbit.
Freedman worked on Trump's transition team in late 2016. He was removed after he was found to be conducting government business using an e-mail address associated with his consulting firm.
Freedman could not be reached for comment. The EPA did not immediately respond to questions about Freedman's involvement in the Australia trip.
Freedman has long been active as a consultant in Australia and serves as treasurer of the American Australian Council, a group that helps promote business for U.S.-based companies that operate in Australia by strengthening ties between the two nations. Two prominent members include Chevron and ConocoPhillips.
Freedman used an e-mail address similar to the one he used during the presidential transition to coordinate the Australia trip with EPA officials and another lobbyist, Richard Smotkin, who has long-standing ties to Pruitt. Smotkin also helped organize a different foreign trip taken by Pruitt — to Morocco in December — and then four months later signed a $40,000-a-month contract to represent an arm of the government of that country.
The e-mails, which were released under the Freedom of Information Act to the Sierra Club after a lawsuit, show that Freedman repeatedly communicated in June with Millan Hupp, a top political aide to Pruitt. Hupp also worked with Pruitt as a political assistant when he was Oklahoma's attorney general.
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement, "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."
Freedman is not registered as a lobbyist for the government of Australia, nor is he currently registered to lobby on behalf of any foreign or domestic clients in the United States, according to records on file with Congress and the Department of Justice. They show that a now-inactive firm he had formed with Manafort was last registered to lobby in the late 1990s, when it represented the government of Nigeria and Argentine politician Alberto Pierri.