Emails: Pruitt used EPA aide to inquire about Chick-fil-A business opportunity

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt enlisted the help of an aide to inquire about the possibility of a business opportunity with the fast food chain Chick-fil-A, according to emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request from the Sierra Club.

The Washington Post first reported Tuesday that following outreach from an aide, Pruitt had a call with an individual in the company’s legal department. A representative for Chick-fil-A, Carrie Kurlander, told the newspaper that the call involved “an expression of interest in his wife becoming a Chick-fil-A franchisee.”

Kurlander said that the EPA administrator’s wife “started, but did not complete, the Chick-fil-A franchisee application” and added that Pruitt’s wife is not now and has never previously been a franchisee for the company.

CNN has reached out to Chick-fil-A for comment, but has not yet received a response. EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox declined to comment to the Post and did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

The news is the latest in a series of actions by Pruitt that have raised questions over his ethical judgment as EPA chief.

Pruitt is currently the subject of multiple inquiries into his actions at the agency from ethics watchdogs, federal auditors and congressional committees. He has faced criticism for months over his first-class travel, security expenses and his decision to rent a room in Washington, DC, tied to an energy lobbyist.

The Post notes that “federal ethics laws bar public officials from using their position or staff for private gain.”

According to the report, Pruitt’s Chick-fil-A inquiry came after Sydney Hupp, who was working as an executive scheduler for Pruitt at EPA, reached out via email to Dan Cathy, the chairman of Chick-fil-A, in May 2017.

Hupp departed the agency last year and did not respond to a CNN or Post request for comment.

In one email exchange reviewed by CNN, Hupp emailed Cathy from her EPA.gov email address on May 16. She stated, “Administrator Pruitt asked me to reach out to you and see if you might be willing to get a time set up for the two of you to have a meeting.” The subject line of the email was “Meeting with Administrator Scott Pruitt.”

Another email reviewed by CNN shows that Hupp sent a message to another contact at the company several days later saying that the administrator “would like to talk about a potential business opportunity with Mr. Cathy.”

A conference call set up for June 23 with Cathy did not end up taking place, but “a call took place later between Administrator Pruitt and a Chick-fil-A staff member,” company officials told the Post.