Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s expensive trip to Italy last year included dinner with Vatican treasurer George Pell, a climate denier since charged with child sex abuse, according to documents unearthed by The New York Times.
Emails obtained by Times reporter Eric Lipton and shared Thursday on Twitter reveal that planning for the June dinner began a month earlier. EPA staffers were fully aware that Pell, a cardinal who is the Vatican’s third-ranking official, was at the time under investigation, but it appears they sought to cover up Pell’s attendance rather than alter Pruitt’s schedule, Lipton found. Pell was charged with sex crimes in Australia three weeks after the dinner.
Pruitt’s dinner with Pell at a fancy Roman restaurant was omitted from four official EPA calendars. They mention the dinner itself, but the list of attendees didn’t include Pell.
The scandal-plagued EPA chief and the Vatican executive discussed a Wall Street Journal op-ed advocating the creation of a “red team/blue team” process to debate climate science, according to an email obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.
Pell was charged with “historical sexual offenses” from his time as an archbishop in Australia, including charges of sexual abuse. The charges were filed in June 2017, but newspapers reported he was under investigation in July 2016.
Pell, a known climate skeptic, has long called for debate surrounding climate science.
“The appeal must be to the evidence,” he wrote in a 2011 op-ed, arguing that claims of global warming don’t always add up. “First of all we need adequate scientific explanations as a basis for our economic estimates. We also need history, philosophy, even theology and many will use, perhaps create, mythologies. But most importantly we need to distinguish which is which.”
Pruitt spoke to Breitbart about the red team-blue team debate idea in a June 2017 interview.
“The American people need to have that type of honest, open discussion, and it’s something that we hope to help provide as part of our leadership,” he said.
Other EPA emails obtained by The Washington Post show that EPA staff also reached out to several conservative groups about setting up the exercise in the weeks ahead of Pruitt’s comments.
“[T]he ‘Red Team’ idea is superb,” Rodney Nichols, a science and technology policy consultant for the CO2 Coalition, said to Pruitt aide Lincoln Ferguson in a May 2017 email. “We will be glad to help the initiative in any way we can.”
Pruitt has been under investigation for a wide variety of ethical lapses, including lavish spending on travel and security. The White House admitted for the first time on Thursday that the pile of allegations “have raised some concerns,” according to spokesman Raj Shah.
“We’re hopeful and expecting that Administrator Pruitt will be able to answer those,” he said.