USDA Records of External Emails from Secretary Perdue’s Schedulers

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) records of external emails from schedulers working for Secretary Sonny Perdue. The records are from the spring of 2017 through the summer of 2018, and contain communications that appear to indicate inappropriate use of personal email by Perdue.

In these records:

Secretary Sonny Perdue appears to have been using a personal email address to correspond about agency business. The emails include a schedule for a Georgia agriculture event sent to him by his daughter-in-law, as well as an invitation to a conservative political action committee conference. 

Instances of Potential Personal Email Use

At least eight times, Perdue forwarded emails to USDA Director of Scheduling Lauren Sullivan from what appears to be a personal email account. Although the entire address is redacted, making it impossible to tell for sure that it is a personal email address, Sullivan identifies the emailer as Perdue in several return emails, and the redacted address is tagged as belonging to Perdue by the email software. Additionally, each forwarded email triggered a malware warning to Sullivan’s account, indicating that the correspondence originated outside of the USDA. 

The following is a list of scheduling requests that appear to be sent from Perdue’s personal email account:

April 27, 2017: Perdue forwarded an email to Sullivan about a “Virginia VMA meeting,” possibly a reference to the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association. Sullivan said she would “tentatively mark this date in the calendar and coordinate in the coming months as it gets closer.” 

May 5, 2017: Perdue forwarded Sullivan an email from his daughter-in-law, Jessica Perdue, CFO of Perdue Inc., about the June 22–25 Georgia Feed and Grain Association (GFGA) conference. Perdue wrote in the email, which is heavily redacted, “Not mandatory but if it works do it.” 

That day, Perdue sent a follow-up email about the event to Sullivan. Sullivan replied, “I received the information from Jessica and will make it work.” Perdue’s calendar shows he traveled to Florida for the event on June 22, 2017

May 10, 2017: Perdue forwarded Sullivan a speaking invitation to a meeting related to crop production in the fall.  He also forwarded another email about a Senate Bible study with Ralph Drollinger of Capitol Ministries. Both emails appear to be forwarded by a nongovernment email address.

May 22, 2017: Perdue forwarded Sullivan an invitation to the 2017 annual Mavericks Conference hosted by the conservative Maverick Political Action Committee. The invitation came from Morgan Ortagus, then a Fox News contributor and Maverick PAC co-chair, and she requested that Perdue participate in a Maverick PAC event. Ortagus was sworn in as the State Department spokesperson in April 2019. 

June 21, 2017: Perdue copied Sullivan in a response to a speaking invitation at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga. His calendars show he spoke at the church on July 2, 2017

Nov. 8, 2017: Perdue copied Sullivan an email from Anthony Pratt of Pratt Industries. Sullivan planned arrangements for a meeting between the two in following emails. 

Other Communications of Interest

July 5, 2017: Sullivan received an email about a meeting from Candy Fant, executive assistant to Jim Roquemore, the CEO and chairman of the Georgia agriculture company Super-Sod, a subsidiary of the Patten Seed Company. In the email, Fant included a list of people joining Roquemore in visiting the secretary, and wrote that the company would cover expenses for any arrangements Perdue’s office could make for them: “As stated earlier, we are open to anything you can put together and ALL of it at our expense, to include transportation, White House, Dinner or anything you come up with.” 

Over the next few days, Sullivan and Fant arrange the details of the visit, discussing dinner and a possible monument tour. According to Perdue’s calendars, he had dinner and visited the arboretum with Roquemore and his group on July 26, 2017

July 24, 2017: John Bozeman, managing partner for GeorgiaLink Public Affairs Group, emailed Sullivan requesting a meeting for his colleague Arthur “Skin” Edge and the “Georgia Golf Industry.”

Sep. 18, 2017: Sullivan sent an email to Brad Fairbairn, an executive at the Georgia poultry company Fieldale Farms, to plan a visit to the USDA for early October. In his reply email, Fairbairn copied Danny Brown of AGrowStar, a business Perdue owned until his appointment as secretary. We obtained a letter dated March 7, 2017, written by Perdue to a USDA ethics official that said Perdue would recuse himself from matters related to AGrowStar until he repaid a promissory note from the company. According to a public financial disclosure report, Perdue received income connected to AGrowStar in 2018.  

Jan. 29–Feb. 6, 2018: Sig Rogich, a lobbyist and former U.S. ambassador to Iceland under President George H.W. Bush, emailed Sullivan to set up a meeting with Perdue. The two corresponded into February to coordinate a meeting date and determine a representative for Perdue, as Perdue could not make the meeting. Sullivan connected Rogich with a scheduler for Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney. 

June 11, 2018: Joe McDonough, a Georgia land developer, emailed Sullivan an attachment and wrote: “Please get the attachment in the Secretary’s hands ASAP and have him call me. … This is URGENT.” The attachment was not released to American Oversight. 

Also that day, Sullivan arranged a meeting for later that week between Perdue and Dylan Glenn, the managing director of the Guggenheim Partners and board member for American Action Network Dylan Glenn. Glenn also served as Perdue’s deputy chief of staff when Perdue was Georgia governor.