On April 1, CNN political commentator David Urban registered to lobby for the passage of a trade agreement backed by President Donald Trump. Just three days later, Urban exploited his CNN employment by touting the agreement unprompted on Jake Tapper’s weekday program -- without any disclosure of his direct financial conflict of interest.
Urban is a Republican operative and the president of American Continental Group, a lobbying firm that took in over $13 million in lobbying fees last year. Urban also worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign, and he is helping advise his 2020 reelection campaign.
Trump has been trying to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Due to concerns about the measure’s prospects in Congress, Republicans formed the 501(c)(4) group Trade Works for America to pressure members of Congress, especially Democrats, to support it.
As part of its efforts, Trade Works for America retained Urban and American Continental Group to specifically lobby on USMCA, with the effective registration date of April 1.
Just a few days later, Urban appeared on the April 4 edition of CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper and said that the USMCA has been “getting some momentum, some traction with Democrats in the House” and Trump’s threat to close the U.S.-Mexico border would “kind of blow that up” and be “a tragedy”:
DAVID URBAN (CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND LOBBYING COMPANY PRESIDENT): I would say that one of the president's and this administration’s objectives, main objectives coming in the next several months is the ratification of the USMCA. And I think closing the border would have gone a lot -- a far way in undermining that.
JAKE TAPPER (HOST): That's the new NAFTA, the replacement for NAFTA?
URBAN: The new NAFTA, right. I think there’s -- it's getting some momentum, some traction with Democrats in the House. I think it's moving somewhat forward, and to kind of blow that up would have been a tragedy.
Neither CNN nor Urban disclosed that he is being paid to lobby for the trade agreement.
Urban has repeatedly shown a blatant disregard for ethics during his CNN appearances. He advocated for a military strike against Iran (he lobbies for defense contractors). He attacked pro-environment policies and praised Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental protections (he lobbies for fossil fuel-related companies). And he specifically raised the National Association of Home Builders’ objection to a Republican tax plan (he lobbies for the organization).
After criticism from Media Matters, CNN began a panel segment with Urban last Sunday by stating: “We have to disclose that you are a corporate lobbyist who has clients in the defense and energy industries.” Urban responded by laughing and saying, “We get in trouble. We always get in trouble. I get in trouble.”
But as Urban’s USMCA episode shows, that disclosure doesn’t really suffice and his financial conflicts of interest aren’t just limited to “the defense and energy industries.” American Continental Group lists over a dozen issue areas that it works on, from commerce to manufacturing to transportation.
Additionally, Urban registered as a foreign agent last year to, among other things, “provide advice, counsel and assist Emirates Global Aluminum PJSC,” a state-owned company based in the United Arab Emirates, “in a license request to the United States Department of the Treasury” on behalf of a subsidiary.
Urban clearly doesn’t care about media ethics or conflicts of interest. The question is whether CNN cares, and if it does, why it continues to employ the president and part-owner of a large lobbying company despite his past duplicity and his countless real and potential financial conflicts of interest.
The network did not respond to a request for comment.