The Real Story of Scott Pruitt's Trip to Rome

Pruitt met with top Vatican officials to discuss climate

Scott Pruitt
Scott Pruitt / Getty Images

New details of Scott Pruitt's trip to Italy to attend the G-7 summit last summer undermine media reports painting the Environmental Protection Agency administrator's trip as a lavish tourist vacation.

Pruitt's visit to the same summit Lisa Jackson attended during the beginning of her tenure as an Obama administration EPA administrator included stops in Rome and Bologna. Pruitt's schedule, obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, reveals the four-day trip was heavy on business dealings.

Pruitt attended delegations, bilateral meetings, and dinners, including a productive meeting with top Vatican officials, who said Pruitt was "thinking carefully" about issues related to climate change.

Pruitt attended a private Mass at 7:15 at the Vatican on his first day in Rome on June 9. Richard Gyhra of the Vatican Secretary of State Office and Father Joseph Spiteri arranged the Mass.

Following Mass, Pruitt was given a brief tour of St. Peter's Basilica. He then attended a meeting with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican's foreign minister; Louis L. Bono, the deputy chief of mission to the U.S. embassy to the Holy See; and Emmett Sapp, a foreign service officer at the Vatican.

A source close to the Vatican with knowledge of Pruitt's meeting with Archbishop Gallagher welcomed Pruitt's outreach to Vatican leaders on environmental issues.

"It was a very productive and consequential meeting," the source said. "His excellency and the administrator may not share the same perspectives on how states should address climate change, but his excellency listened and appreciated that the United States was thinking carefully about the shared objective to preserve the ecosystem."

Pruitt and EPA officials then headed to the Rome Court of Appeals for a "Judicial Roundtable on Rule of Law as it Applies to the Environment," with numerous high ranking justice officials in Italy.

Participants in the roundtable included Judge Luciano Panzani, the president of the Rome Court of Appeals; Dr. Roberta Palmisano and Dr. Roberto Reali, secretary generals in the Rome Court of Appeals; and Dr. Nunzia D'Elia, deputy head of the public prosecutor's office in the Rome Court of First Instance.

Pruitt and officials then attended a private lunch at La Caletta St. Peter, a "refined but informal restaurant."

Next, Pruitt was scheduled to attend a private Apostolic Palace Tour given by Cardinal George Pell, secretary of the economy and third-highest ranking official in the Vatican.

Though the tour is listed on the official schedule, an EPA source told the Free Beacon Pell was not present. Pruitt did not meet Pell until incidentally during a business dinner with Vatican officials later that evening. Official schedules on international delegations often change, the source said.

Pruitt and EPA officials first attended dinner at Hotel Eden in La Terrazza, arranged by Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, followed by a delegation briefing for the next day's trip to the G-7 summit in Bologna.

A source close to Leo said he arranged the Eden Hotel dinner on June 9 with the purpose of introducing U.S. officials to a number of influential people from the Vatican to discuss environmental issues.

Pell's presence was a surprise to organizers. Two invited guests brought him along as a "plus-one." A Vatican insider, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, confirmed that he brought the cardinal on his own initiative, rather than at Leo or Pruitt's request.

"I sent the invitation to [Pell] directly. For us it was a dinner amongst friends, a chance to have a night out," the source said. "It had been the cardinal's birthday [June 8], so he had been in a celebratory mood."

At least 14 people attended, though there may have been a few stragglers, according to attendees who spoke to the Free Beacon. After 30 minutes of mingling and cocktails, guests took there seats at three tables, a large round table that seated six, a rectangular table that seated eight, and a smaller table for four. One attendee recalled Pruitt and Pell sitting at the same table for much of the evening discussing environmental issues, including Pope Francis's encyclical, Laudato Si. Halfway through the meal, they said, Leo stood up and rearranged people's seats to liven up the conversation.

The Vatican insider confirmed that he left the meal with Pell.

"We brought his Eminence back home after about two hours—that's a common [dinner-time] in Rome," he said.

Cardinal Pell has been a top aide to Pope Francis since taking over the newly minted secretariat for the economy in 2014. As Archbishop of Melbourne, Pell spearheaded the Church's first independent taskforce dedicated to rooting out sexual abuse from the clergy in 1996—years before abuse allegations garnered headlines worldwide. He has since come under criticism for the Church's handling of abuse cases, as well as claims that he molested a child in 1961. In 2002, an internal investigation led by a former Australian Supreme Court justice cleared Pell of that accusation.

The accusation resurfaced in Australia when a journalist published a book interviewing several accusers in May 2017, which received limited media attention, and Pell remained a top Vatican official. The controversy came to a head three weeks after Pell's dinner with Pruitt.

On June 29, 2017, Australian authorities announced charges against the cardinal. Pell returned to Australia to cooperate with police and was granted a leave of absence by Pope Francis, though he still maintained his title.

On April 30, a judge dismissed half of the charges brought by the state, including several of the most serious allegations against Pell. She cited inconsistent testimony from several accusers, a "cavalier attitude" to the truth from one complainant, and a "fundamental defect in the evidence" presented by prosecutors, according to ABC Melbourne.

"The evidence as a whole is not a sufficient weight for a jury to convict," the judge said.

Pell, who has maintained his innocence throughout, pled not guilty to the remaining counts and will face separate trials on charges alleged to have occurred in the 1970s and the 1990s, respectively.

The source close to Leo downplayed the significance of Pruitt's meeting with Pell, noting that charges had not yet been announced and that up until that point he had been cleared of wrongdoing. He said high Vatican officials commonly meet with politicians, ambassadors, and state leaders.

"This was a dinner that took place with a number of influential people from inside the Vatican, and Pruitt and other members of his delegation were present," the source said. "The Vatican has not asked [Pell] to leave, that's got to be relevant. He's still the number three guy there. He's still an official."

Pruitt is not the only government official to meet with Pell in recent years. President Obama's  Ambassador to the Holy See met with the Cardinal at least once in 2016, soon after Australian media began exploring claims he mishandled sexual abuse cases as the nation's top Catholic. A Vatican official and a source familiar with Cardinal Pell and his work confirmed the meeting.

The EPA administrator’s office said Pruitt was not aware of the allegations against Pell, given that they were not publicly made against Pell until 20 days after the Hotel Eden dinner.

"On June 9, 2017, Administrator Pruitt had dinner with numerous leaders from the Holy See and on June, 29, 2017, these allegations became public," said EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox.

Wilcox added that Pruitt did not seek Cardinal Pell's assistance with the EPA administrator's "red team, blue team" idea to publicly debate climate change.

Pruitt's business trip continued. The EPA delegation traveled to Bologna early on June 10 for the G-7 summit, where Gian Luca Galletti, Italy's minister of the environment, and Unindustria Bologna president Alberto Vacchi welcomed Pruitt.

Pruitt then attended lunch with Minister Galletti and American and Italian business leaders, followed by a bilateral meeting. The meeting included Italian officials Francesco La Camera, the director of sustainable development, energy and climate at the Italian Ministry of Environment, Stefano Marguccio, a diplomatic adviser, and Roberto Sorbello, chief of protocol.

The G-7 summit also included a "Showcase of Innovative Food Waste Approaches and Tour" that Pruitt attended along with Virginio Merola, the mayor of Bologna, senior officials from Italian supermarket cooperatives, and the FICO World Eataly.

Later, Pruitt held a bilateral meeting with the U.K. environment minister Michael Gove, followed by a meet and greet with participants of the U.S. delegation for the G-7.

Pruitt's first meeting on Sunday, June 11, was at 7:45 a.m. with Minister Koichi Yamamoto, of the Ministry of Environment in Japan. He then attended the opening ceremony of the G-7, followed by a climate change general discussion session and a bilateral meeting with German minister of environment Barbara Hendricks.

By Monday, Pruitt was back in Washington attending a cabinet meeting with the president and meetings with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Update 7:21 p.m.: An earlier version of this story stated Pruitt did not attend a scheduled tour of Apostolic Palace given by Cardinal Pell. However, an EPA source clarified following publication of this story that Pruitt did go on the tour, but it was not given by Pell.

Published under: EPA , Scott Pruitt