Ex-Interior Deputy a Target in Abramoff Probe
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Federal prosecutors have notified a former deputy secretary of the interior, J. Steven Griles, that he is a target in the public corruption investigation of Jack Abramoff's lobbying activities, sources knowledgeable about the probe said.
The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that among the possible criminal charges being investigated is whether Griles made false statements to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in 2005 about job discussions Abramoff initiated while Griles was deputy secretary. Griles's attorneys did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.
Justice Department prosecutors met with Griles on Friday to outline possible charges. The investigation has examined donations made by Abramoff's Indian tribal clients to an environmental advocacy group run by Italia Federici, who was involved with Griles socially, the sources said. Also under scrutiny are donations made to Federici's group by energy and mining companies, the sources said.
E-mails released last year by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee showed that Griles had more than half a dozen contacts with Abramoff or with Federici, head of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, who was working as the lobbyist's go-between to Griles. Griles has said that he never tried to intercede on behalf of Abramoff's clients.
The Indian Affairs Committee, in a report issued after a series of investigative hearings, said that further inquiry "appears warranted" into the "veracity" of Federici's public testimony. Federici's testimony before the committee included discussions of her relationship with Abramoff, his tribal clients and Griles.
Federici declined to comment for this article yesterday. Current and former Interior Department officials have appeared in recent weeks at the federal courthouse in Washington where a federal grand jury has been investigating Abramoff's dealings.
With the prospect of Griles's indictment, a senior Justice Department official -- who Interior employees said has been dating Griles -- tendered her resignation this week.
Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources for the past year, submitted a letter of resignation Monday saying that she intends to return to the private sector, a Justice Department official said yesterday.
Wooldridge served as Interior Department solicitor and as deputy chief of staff to then-Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton before moving to Justice in November 2005. Cynthia Magnuson, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said that Wooldridge would not be available for comment about her departure. "Sue Ellen sent the resignation letter in of her own volition. This is a decision that she made," Magnuson said.
Griles was a controversial figure at Interior, strongly criticized by the department's inspector general for maintaining ties to energy and mining companies that were once his lobbying clients.
Yesterday, another former Interior Department employee was sentenced to two years' probation and fined $1,000 for failing to report gifts that he received from Abramoff. Roger G. Stillwell accepted hundreds of dollars worth of football and concert tickets from Abramoff, who at the time was lobbying for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Stillwell worked in the Interior Department's Insular Affairs Office, which handles issues involving the island government.