On the second night of a jaunt through Rome, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt blocked off two hours of his schedule to have a private dinner with top aides. For the destination, the group chose Hotel Eden, an ostentatious spot in the heart of the city known for having the best rooftop bar in Rome.
It’s the type of place where the wealthy mingle, and where diplomats and businessmen gather to share stories and, occasionally, talk business. The main restaurant in the five star hotel, La Terrazza, advertises its “fine dining experience with equally spectacular views.” The cheapest option on its a la carte menu runs at 130 Euros per person; the most expensive option (which came with a wine pairing) ran at 280 Euros. Pruitt dined with two others that night: Ryan Jackson, his chief of staff, and Samantha Dravis, his former top aide who has since left the EPA.
The stop at Hotel Eden was just one, two-hour window on a two-day swing through Rome. But for Pruitt’s critics, it, and the trip in general, is emblematic of a cabinet official who has spent lavishly on himself while living off the taxpayer dime; a proclivity that extends to a taste in fine restaurants in Washington D.C. as well. The total cost of the Italy trip, which included an swing to Bologna to meet with environmental ministers, ran $120,000, according to previously reported EPA documents.
Pruitt defended that price tag by stressing that he was taking “very important meetings” along the way. He called the trip “an obligation” and said he was “a little bit dumbfounded by the kind of media narrative that these things are somehow not the focus.” His aides point out that the administrator and each of his staffers are given per-diems when traveling abroad, and that any expenses exceeding them are paid out of pocket, not billed to taxpayers (though much of the costs Pruitt ran up related to the massive security detail he used while abroad).
But the specific details of Pruitt’s trip, which were published on Monday as part of a massive trove of documents obtained by the environmental group Sierra Club, show that official work events made up a relatively small portion of his time in Rome.
In all, Pruitt held four work events over the course of just under 48-hours in the city. They included a meeting with Kelly Degnan, the U.S. Mission Italy's Deputy Chief of Mission; a roundtable of business leaders to discuss environmental innovation, a meeting with the Vatican’s ministry of foreign affairs; and a judicial roundtable on environmental law.
All told, those four work-related events took up four hours of Pruitt’s time, according to his schedule.
By contrast, Pruitt had three private, non-work related meals, including his stop at Hotel Eden, which took up 5.5 hours of his schedule. He also took a private tour of the Vatican Library, a private tour of the Scavi, and a private tour of the Apostolic Palace, which took up 3.5 hours of his schedule.
Pruitt also had a private mass at the Vatican, which was reportedly arranged for him Leonard Leo, the head of the conservative Federalist Society
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox defended the trip on Monday, noting that it was comparable in activity and expense to previous junkets taken by Pruitt’s predecessors in the Obama administration.
Wilcox provided documentation showing that Gina McCarthy, Obama’s second EPA administrator, spent about $71,000 on a trip to Italy and the Vatican, and brought eleven staff members with her. Pruitt’s trip, on which he was joined by ten staff members, cost about $120,000, though Wilcox noted that that sum included a chartered military jet from Cincinnati to New York, where Pruitt boarded a flight to Italy. That chartered flight cost about $36,000, according to an ABC News report.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune on Monday, noted that the group had to take Pruitt to court in order to get a copy of his schedule.
“These documents expose a deeply rooted culture of corruption surrounding Scott Pruitt and his dealings in essentially every aspect of his job,” said Brune. “Scott Pruitt doesn’t live in the swamp -- he is the swamp -- and he should resign, or be fired immediately.”