Scott Pruitt Met With Lobbyist Whose Wife Rented Him a $50-a-Night Condo

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has been criticized for the ways that his professional actions overlap with personal relationships.

WASHINGTON — Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, met personally last year with J. Steven Hart, the lobbyist whose wife had rented him a $50-a-night Capitol Hill condo, a disclosure that contradicts earlier statements that E.P.A. lobbying by Mr. Hart had not occurred.

The meeting was set up on behalf of an executive associated with Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer. Previously, Mr. Hart and his lobbying firm, Williams & Jensen, had maintained that Mr. Hart never lobbied Mr. Pruitt in 2017, when Mr. Pruitt was living in a condo co-owned by Mr. Hart’s wife, or in the time since then.

Late Friday, Williams & Jensen revealed in a filing that Mr. Hart was a registered lobbyist for Smithfield Foods in the first quarter of 2018 and said that he lobbied the E.P.A. on the company’s behalf. Details on the filing were first reported by The Hill.

Then, on Saturday, a spokesman for Mr. Hart, Ryan Williams, told The New York Times that Mr. Hart had met with Mr. Pruitt in 2017, along with Dennis Treacy, a former Smithfield executive vice president. Mr. Treacy now serves on the board of directors of the Smithfield Foundation, which the food company describes as its philanthropic arm with a focus of combating hunger.

Both Smithfield Foods and Mr. Hart dispute that the meeting was lobbying for the food company. However, the fact that a previously undisclosed meeting took place, around the same time when Mr. Pruitt was renting a $50-a-night Capitol Hill condo from Mr. Hart’s wife, is the latest example of Mr. Pruitt’s professional actions overlapping with personal relationships in ways that his critics have been quick to call inappropriate.

A spokesman for Smithfield Foods said that the work Mr. Hart did was on behalf of Mr. Treacy personally, as he is also a member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a government entity that works to improve the water quality in the largest estuary in the United States.

The E.P.A. has its own Chesapeake Bay program office, and it has been working for more than a decade with area states and the District of Columbia to restore the bay’s water quality.

“Smithfield Foods, Inc. has learned Williams & Jensen has advocated in support of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs to help the Chesapeake Bay,” the company said in a statement Saturday. “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.”

Mr. Hart disputed on Saturday that his story had changed, saying in a written statement that his work with Mr. Treacy was not compensated and not on behalf of Smithfield. “I assisted a friend who serves on the Chesapeake Bay Commission, and this is inaccurately being tied to Smithfield Foods,” Mr. Hart said. “I was not paid for this assistance and any suggestion that I lobbied for Smithfield Foods is inaccurate.”

The Smithfield Foods disclosure was made the same day that Mr. Hart announced he was stepping down as chairman of Williams & Jensen — instead of waiting until his planned November retirement — citing the negative publicity that had been caused by the Capitol Hill condo rental to Mr. Pruitt.

“Considering the last couple of weeks, I think it is easier on my family and the firm to expedite my departure,” Mr. Hart wrote in a note to his work colleagues on Friday. “I am very much looking forward to devoting myself to an independent legal practice, some strategic business counseling for a few clients, golf, and shooting (not in that order),” he wrote.

No details were released by Williams & Jensen or Smithfield about the meeting between Mr. Hart and Mr. Pruitt other than that it took place in early 2017.

Patrick Creighton, the spokesman for Williams & Jensen, said in a written statement on Saturday that the firm was now reviewing its 2017 lobbying disclosure statements and “will make adjustments if needed once that review is complete,” to acknowledge, if necessary, that the meeting took place.

Mr. Pruitt’s calendar from 2017 shows a short meeting on Aug. 1 with Chesapeake Bay Commission leadership that does not disclose who from the organization was present. Agency officials did not respond on Saturday when asked if this was the meeting that involved Mr. Hart.

A spokeswoman for the E.P.A., when previously asked by The Times about any lobbying by Mr. Hart, said that “there was no connection between where he lived and any decision he made.” The agency sent out that statement again on Saturday when asked about the 2017 meeting with Mr. Hart.

Mr. Hart had previously been listed as a lobbyist for companies including Cheniere Energy, a natural gas company that is regulated by the E.P.A.

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