Among a dozen or so dinner guests at a five-star restaurant in Italy last year were EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and a controversial Vatican figure who was under investigation for and later charged with sexual abuse.
Scott Pruitt's public schedule for June 9, 2017, said he was having a private dinner with staff, but documents uncovered by The New York Times reveal he was dining with the highest-ranking member of the Catholic Church to be accused in the sex abuse scandal plaguing the global church, Cardinal George Pell.
Pell was under investigation at the time by authorities in Australia, where he had been an archbishop. Later that month, he was charged with abuse.
Pell is also a known climate change denier, a position that aligns with Pruitt, which may explain why he was invited to the dinner. Another dozen or so members of the Holy See also attended, according to a statement from the EPA.
They went to a restaurant called La Terrazza, where meals run up to $240 per plate. The EPA wouldn't say who paid for the guests, but, spokesman Jahan Wilcox said, "Administrator Pruitt paid for all of his meals."
Wilcox also would not say why Pell was kept off the public schedule, saying only that the cardinal was charged 20 days after the dinner.
In a separate statement to CNN, Wilcox said that Pruitt was unaware of Pell's attendance. But the private schedule in a May email obtained by the Times shows he was the only Vatican official named on the schedule for the dinner. It was even noted that the dinner was the day before the cardinal's 76th birthday.
Pruitt was already under scrutiny for this Italy trip, given its $120,000 price tag, and reporting that it was arranged by an activist and friend of Pruitt's, Leonard Leo, an executive with The Federalist Society. Pruitt told members of Congress he went to attend the G7 summit, but spent only one day there, according to his schedule.
The trip is one of dozens of ethical scandals Pruitt is trying to weather as he navigates a path to keeping his job at the EPA. There are nearly a dozen probes underway, and the White House said as recently as Thursday that his actions have? "raised concerns" and they are hoping Pruitt can answer questions about his behavior.
Friday, President Donald Trump told reporters he remains confident in Pruitt's ability to run the agency. He is widely accepted as one of the most effective administrators when it comes to deregulation - something favorable to business but gut-wrenching to environmental groups.