WASHINGTON (CN) – John Konkus, aide to Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, has been given the green light to offer media consulting services for profit while with the agency, but the identities of those for whom he’ll be working remain under wraps.
According to an ethics form approved by the agency in August, the EPA agreed to let Konkus “engage in outside activity for compensation,” namely for the provision of “strategy, mail and media production” services for at least two clients.
Both of the client names are redacted.
In the letter, Justina Fugh, the designated ethics official for the EPA, warned Konkus his outside consulting income must be limited to no more than $27,765 for 2017.
According to the Associated Press, Konkus’s salary with the EPA totals $145,000.
“The restriction also prevents you from accepting compensation for practicing a profession which involves a fiduciary relationship, affiliating with or being employed by a firm or other entity which provides professional services involving a fiduciary relationship, serving as an officer or member of the board of any association, corporation or entity or teaching without prior approval,” Fugh wrote. Providing consultative media advice does not qualify as a “fiduciary role,” according to Fugh’s letter, and since services will be provided to clients directly, not through another corporation, no ethics rules would be violated, the agency determined.
Konkus is a familiar face in the Trump administration.
Pruitt selected him to assist the EPA transition team while his predecessor, then acting director Catherine McCabe, made her exit last February.
Konkus also chaired Trump’s campaign for Leon County, Florida in Tallahassee.
At the time, Konkus was executive vice president for Jamestown Associates, a political consulting firm. Once Pruitt brought him into the EPA fold, Konkus stepped down from that position.
Since Konkus stands to profit from work as a consultant, ethics rules at the agency bar him from participating in EPA duties that would have a “direct and predictable financial effect upon [his] outside clients.”
“Don’t forget,” the letter states, “you are generally prohibited by a criminal law from representing another entity back to the federal government in any matter in which the U.S. is a party or has a direct and substantial interest.”’
As Pruitt’s aide, Konkus’ responsibilities mainly include reviewing grant solicitations and occasionally, reviewing grant awards.
According to a ruling filed in the the District of Columbia Federal Court last December, Konkus was responsible for reviewing the grant award for Bay Journal, a magazine focused on the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
After his review, the journal lost its annual $325,000 grant.
According to publisher Bay Journal Media Inc.’s Dec. 22 complaint, the EPA was mum on the specifics for the change, only citing a change in priorities.
Pruitt was questioned about the decision during a Senate Environment and Public Works committee hearing in January. The grant was finally restored on March 2.
Members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce issued a letter to Pruitt Monday citing “serious concerns of impartiality of current … EPA political appointees.”
The lawmakers noted the EPA’s response to their inquiries was “partial” with “key information redacted, leaving many vital questions unanswered,” Monday’s letter states.
The committee has also raised concerns about another EPA appointee, Patrick Davis, who currently serves as senior advisor for public engagement for the EPA’s Denver, Colorado branch.
Davis worked for the Trump campaign in 2016 as well, serving as director of the campaign’s Colorado outreach.
The EPA, Konkus and Davis failed to immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.
As a part of Monday’s letter, lawmakers have requested a complete list of EPA appointees currently approved to “engage in outside activity for compensation.”
An un-redacted copy of their client lists must also be turned over to the House committee no later than March 19.