Broken record: CNN’s David Urban touts defense secretary, doesn’t disclose financial conflicts of interest

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

In what's become a troubling pattern, CNN failed to disclose that one of its main political commentators has financial entanglements with the subject he was discussing. 

CNN political commentator David Urban appeared on the network and touted acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper, listing him as one of the “credible people” that President Donald Trump can rely on and saying that the administration official has a “great relationship” with Trump. Urban personally lobbies the Defense Department on behalf of defense contractors and lobbied for defense giant Raytheon when Esper headed the company’s lobbying shop. 

Urban serves as the president and part-owner of American Continental Group, a multimillion dollar lobbying firm. In 2017, when Trump was reportedly considering Urban as his White House chief of staff, Daily Beast reporter Lachlan Markay wrote that Urban has “not just a wealth of political experience but a roster of recent lobbying clients with business before the federal government and large sums riding on major administration policy decisions.” 

Trump recently nominated Esper to serve as defense secretary in a permanent capacity. In June, Axios had reported that Esper “is close” to Urban, and Politico called him “a close ally” of Urban. The two, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, graduated from West Point in 1986. 

Media Matters previously reported that Urban has pushed his lobbying interests during CNN appearances on issues such as the military, environment, taxes, and trade

CNN has recently started adding some disclosures for Urban during his appearances. CNN’s Jake Tapper stated on the July 12 edition of The Lead that Urban is “a D.C. lobbyist” who works on “behalf of energy, defense, and transportation companies.” Urban laughed as Tapper read the disclosure, stating, “That's like a tagline ... my new tagline.” Tapper replied: “Well, just full disclosure.”

But just a few hours later, that disclosure was gone as Urban appeared on the July 12 edition of Erin Burnett OutFront with guest host Kate Bolduan, and she introduced him as a Trump 2020 adviser. The segment was about the stability of Trump’s White House intelligence community apparatus amid reports that Trump is considering firing Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. After dismissing Coats as “a glorified” staffer, Urban said that, among others, “you have a new secretary of defense coming up who the president has a great relationship with. … There's lots of credible people there in the intelligence community and other places the president relies on.” 

In addition to their friendship, Urban has financial reasons to tout Esper’s credibility to CNN viewers. 

Urban personally lobbies the Defense Department for clients that include military housing developer ​Lendlease Americas and defense contractors General Dynamics and Textron

He was also financially connected to Esper before Esper joined the Trump administration in November 2017. Esper worked as a lobbyist for military contractor Raytheon and was its vice president of government relations. During that time, Urban lobbied on behalf of Raytheon regarding various military issues. His lobbying firm hasn’t reported any lobbying activity for the defense contractor since 2017. 

Urban’s American Continental Group lists dozens of clients on its website and states that it lobbies for numerous sectors. In other words, whenever CNN decides to host Urban, the network is exposing itself to numerous potential conflicts of interest. The question remains: Why does CNN keep putting Urban on its airwaves? 

CNN did not respond to a request for comment.