Records of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s sent communications to non-government email addresses. American Oversight sought these records to shed light on Perdue’s actions and communications during his tenure as secretary. These records contain communications with Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Loeffler’s husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, as well as with Louise Linton (Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s wife), former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Stephen Censky before his appointment to the agency.
March 22, 2018: Sen. Kelly Loeffler was copied on an email sent to Secretary Perdue by her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, the CEO of Intercontinental Exchange (referred to in the email as ICE) and chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. Also copied on the email were then Intercontinental Exchange employees Alex Albert, Jeff Barbuto, and Mika Kawana.
In the email, Sprecher wrote that Intercontinental Exchange planned to launch a service related to RINs (Renewable Identification Numbers), which are serial numbers assigned to batches of biofuel and used as a compliance, tracking, and trading tool by the Renewable Fuel Standard program.
Perdue replied the same day and wrote: “That is great news. While everyone has acknowledged that we need a ‘transparent’ market for RINS, no one has done anything to achieve that until you and your team. I’m meeting with [then-EPA] Administrator Pruitt next week and if able, I would love to relay this news.”
Sept. 28, 2018: Loeffler was again copied on an email sent to Perdue by Sprecher. The email was titled “New York Stock Exchange / ICE Midtown Visit,” and Sprecher wrote: “Kelly and I wish we could have welcomed you in-person. We are so glad you were able to re-connect with so many of the people you’ve met across the country during your time as Ag Secretary as well as to highlight the important role agriculture plays in global markets.”
Perdue replied the same day: “The hospitality at the NYSE was over the top!”
July 9, 2018: Perdue responded to an email request from Newt Gringrich about arranging a phone call to “discuss trade, farmers and politics,” according to the email’s subject line.
Nov. 16, 2018: Gringrich emailed Perdue and then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke apparently about the November 2018 California wildfires. He wrote: “This is such a big disaster the president ought to appoint a national panel of forestry experts to propose bold new standards for forest management reverting to conservation and fire minimization rather than the environmentalist standards which are leading to super hot and super dangerous fires.”
Perdue replied: “We’re suggesting to [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein she should introduce a ‘legal sufficiency’ language in the farm bill to allow a ‘no sue’ clearance in CA to allow us to do what we need to do.”
Feb. 10, 2019: An unidentified individual emailed Perdue with the subject line “Do you have someone at usda focused on 5g and rural american that i could talk with newt.” Perdue replied, mentioning USDA official Jannine Miller: “We’ve been making a huge push for connectivity across rural America.” Perdue copied Miller on the reply and provided her phone number and email address.
May 6, 2019: Gingrich sent an email to Perdue with the subject “5G-America at the Tipping Point May 6, 2019 newt.” The email contains no message, but it is likely that the subject is a reference to a report on 5G wireless networks and Chinese competition that Gingrich delivered to Congress on May 6, 2019.
Perdue replied to the email: “Well done.”
May 23, 2019: An unidentified individual sent an email to Perdue with the subject line: “Good job on brett baier newt.” Perdue replied: ”Thanks for the compliment from the PRO!” That day, Perdue appeared on Special Report with Bret Baier on Fox News to talk about the Trump administration’s approach to trade and support for U.S. farmers.
Jan. 27, 2020: Gingrich sent an email to Perdue with the subject “From newt-who would be in charge of tree planting at usda?”
Perdue replied the next day that the person in charge would be Undersecretary of Natural Resources and Environment Jim Hubbard or Chief of U.S. Forest Service Vicki Christiansen.
May 18, 2017: An email from Stephen Censky to Perdue before Censky was appointed to the position of deputy secretary. The email was sent from an American Soybean Association (ASA) address handle, where Censky worked as an executive. In the email, Censky wrote: “I wanted to let you know that I’m going to be in DC June 5 and 6 for some ASA meetings I’m scheduling, and wanted to reach out to see if it would be beneficial to get together during that time.”
Perdue responded the next day and copied his wife, Mary Perdue, with her personal email. He also copied his director of scheduling, Lauren Sullivan, and another USDA staffer with their official government email addresses. Perdue wrote, “We can’t wait for you to get on board.”
Over the next few hours, Censky and Perdue agreed to set up a meeting. Perdue wrote: “So I don’t mess it up, I’ll ask Lauren to coordinate with you and Mary on the details.”
June 7, 2017: Ralph Drollinger, a clergyman and leader of a White House Bible study group attended by cabinet members, emailed Sullivan information about attending a Bible study. Drollinger wrote: “Sonny asked for the below Bible Study […] he has been hounding me for this!”
Perdue then responded, “I’m copying Mr Drollinger so he will know I got it […] if he thinks I ‘hounded him this morning, he hasn’t seen hounding.”
Jan. 26, 2020: Danielle Drollinger of Capital Ministries (and Ralph Drollinger’s spouse) emailed an invitation to Perdue to a “Cabinet Bible Study.” The email includes an attachment to a document titled “Free Markets and Regulation: Government & Economics Series Part 4.”
Perdue replied the next day and wrote, “You’re doubling up my email with this address as well as my personal address.”
Aug. 15, 2017: Louise Linton, actress and spouse of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, wrote an email to Perdue requesting the confiscation of an African elephant named Nosey who was then owned by Hugo Liebel, owner of the Great American Family Circus. In the email, Linton refers to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
Aug. 16, 2017: Perdue replied: “You have written a well researched appeal for what appears to be a sad situation that has been ongoing for some time. As you are aware, AWA issues are very complicated with usually no easy or mutually satisfactory answers. […] As you may know from conversations with [Lara] Trump, with her help, we are diligently examining our AWA responsibilities to determine the just and legal path to pursue. […] Your feedback will be very important as we proceed.”
In November 2017, Nosey was seized by animal control in Lawrence County, Ala., after being found chained beside a road, according to Save Nosey Now (a nonprofit organization grown from a Facebook group advocating for Nosey’s release from Liebel). In December 2017, it was reported that Liebel and his spouse were arrested on animal cruelty charges, and in October 2019, Liebel’s Animal Welfare Act license was revoked by the USDA. Nosey was moved to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, where Nashville Scene reported in August 2020 that Nosey was doing well.
July 18, 2017: Perdue emailed a link to a “Pro-GMO” film to son Dan Perdue and daughter-in-law Jessica Perdue.
Sept. 15, 2017: An email exchange organizing a phone call for Perdue and Nick Ayers, Alec Poitevint and John Watson (all former campaign staff).
Nov. 20, 2017: Griffith Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, sent an email to Perdue with the subject “BUY AMERICA WAIVER – GEORGIA PORTS AUTHORITY RAIL PROJECT.” The email is heavily redacted. Perdue emailed Lynch the next day and wrote: “Sorry to hear of their decision but the WH is very focused on the buy American position right now irrespective of the cost penalty. Sadly, when a product is unavailable, as this was, it only penalizes the American purchaser! Nobody ever said it made sense up here!”
Feb. 7, 2018: Perdue emailed Brian Folkerts to congratulate Folkerts for taking a job at the Grocery Manufacturers Association as the vice president for government affairs. Perdue wrote, “Will I see you in Las Vegas next Sunday?” Folkerts was a vocal supporter of Perdue’s nomination to the USDA.
Mar. 16, 2018: Emails with Randy Gordon, president of the National Grain and Feed Association.
Sept. 20, 2018: Emails between Sullivan and an event coordinator for Steve and Jackie Green, — founders of the crafts chain-store Hobby Lobby and the Museum of the Bible — to plan a D.C. meeting between the Perdues and the Greens. The event coordinator’s email handle is for the Museum of the Bible, and Steve Green’s executive assistant at Hobby Lobby is copied on the conversation.
March 25, 2019: Greg Ibach, USDA Undersecretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, forwarded Perdue an email from National Pork Board CEO Bill Even. The email included a report about African Swine Fever in Chinese pork production and its implications for the global protein markets.
Part of Investigation: