CNN’s ethics mess: Employee again used network job to promote his lobbying client’s cause

Melissa Joskow

CNN political commentator and megalobbyist David Urban again used his network job to push for the passage of a trade agreement favored by President Donald Trump. Urban’s lobbying firm is being paid by a Trump-aligned group to lobby for the passage of the agreement, a blatant financial conflict of interest that CNN (again) didn’t disclose to viewers. 

Trump has been trying to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) as a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) since he signed the deal during November’s G-20 summit. In February, Axios reported that Republicans formed the 501(c)(4) group Trade Works for America with the specific purpose of pressuring members of Congress, especially Democrats, to support the USMCA.  

On April 1, Trade Works for America retained Urban and his firm American Continental Group to lobby for the USMCA. The group has paid Urban's firm $90,000 so far, according to a lobbying report filed by the firm last week. 

As Media Matters reported earlier this month, Urban used his CNN job to -- unprompted -- push for the agreement’s passage just three days after he was retained to lobby for it. On the April 4 edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper, Urban 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.” Media Matters asked CNN why the network didn’t disclose Urban’s financial conflict of interest during that segment but received no response. 

Urban again appeared on CNN and urged the passage of the USMCA, this time on the July 24 edition of Anderson Cooper 360. Urban brought up the USMCA essentially unprompted and said that “people want to see legislators legislate” and that “the path of success for Democrats” is to pass things like the USMCA. 

DAVID URBAN: So I would say what David [Axelrod] was talking about in the 2018 midterms, people want to see legislators legislate. They want to see things happen. I think the path to success -- you just saw debt ceiling raised, people -- every side kind of got half a loaf. Republicans took it on the chin, I think, in terms of, you know, incredible runaway spending, you know, which is very interesting.

ANDERSON COOPER (HOST): It is extraordinary for the Republicans. 

URBAN: Very extraordinary, right? And so USMCA is coming up on the table here. There's going to be a move to -- whether they're going to pass -- the House is going to do something there. I think the path of success for Democrats is legislatively forward, pass some things, look like the body -- we can work. We're functional, not just somebody who keeps throwing bricks through the window.

DAVID AXELROD (CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR): They would say that they've passed -- they say that they passed a ton of things and they've died in the Senate.

URBAN: But, you can -- but, David, my point is pass things that get signed into law --

COOPER: All right.

URBAN: -- that's legislative.

Neither CNN, Cooper, nor Urban disclosed that he’s a lobbyist for the passage of the USMCA. 

Basic ethics failures have become standard operating procedure for CNN in its handling of Urban. CNN has not disclosed Urban’s lobbying conflicts of interest on other topics such as military issuesenvironmental protections, and tax policy.

Urban is scheduled to appear on the July 28 edition of CNN's State of the Union. The network did not respond to a request for comment.