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Abramoff Bodies Being Rapidly Buried

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Is this one of the big fish the Department of Justice has been able to nail with the help of Jack Abramoff?

Former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles will plead guilty to one count of obstruction of justice in the Jack Abramoff corruption investigation, The Associated Press has learned.

[snip]

Prosecutors dropped earlier allegations that Griles did anything improper to help Abramoff or gained anything of value from the former Republican lobbyist, the AP was told. The agreement does not require Griles to help investigators with their grand jury probe.

In exchange for the plea, federal prosecutors will seek no more than a 10-month prison sentence for Griles — the minimum they could seek under sentencing guidelines — but they will agree to let him serve half that in home confinement, according to one person involved in the case.

Who exactly is Steven Griles?   From 2003:

Griles is Interior Gale Norton's top lieutenant, the man who holds the keys to the nation's oil and mineral reserves. For the past two years, he's used those keys to unlock nearly every legal barrier to exploitation, opening the public lands to a carnival of corporate plunder. He became the toast of Texas. But now Griles is hiding out from reporters and congressional investigators after accounts of his ongoing sleazy relationships with his former associates in big oil have begun to ooze out into the open.

Griles's recent misfortunes are scarcely a surprise. From the time he took his oath of office, Griles was a congressional investigation waiting to happen. The former coal industry flack was one of Bush's most outrageous appointments, an arrogant booster of the very energy cartel he was meant to regulate. His track record could not be given even the slightest green gloss. A veteran of the Reagan administration, Griles schemed closely with disgraced Interior Secretary James Watt to open the public lands of the West to unfettered access by oil and mining companies, many of whom funded Watt's strange outpost of divinely-inspired environmental exploitation, the Mountain States Legal Center.  

Griles was up to his eyeballs in Abramoff dirt. From 2005:

Former deputy interior secretary J. Steven Griles launched a last-minute campaign against a tribal casino apparently at the behest of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, The Washington Post reported on Sunday. 

In early 2002, the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians submitted a gaming compact to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for approval. Former assistant secretary Neal McCaleb rejected it, citing an unfair "tax" on the tribe's gaming revenues. Several members of Congress had opposed the compact.

When the tribe made a second try, Griles tried to block the effort. He showed up to a meeting on the tribe's land-into-trust request with a "thick binder containing letters and legal arguments opposing the Jena plan," The Post reported. He allegedly claimed the binder came from a member of Congress but, when pressed, admitted it probably came from Abramoff.

Griles probably never talked to Abramoff, the paper notes, but instead to Italia Federici, the head of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, a group founded by Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Federici spoke directly to Griles about Abramoff's clients, who donated at least $225,000 to the organization. The Coushatta Tribe opposed the Jena Choctaw's casino plan.

The DOI Inspector General is now probing the contacts between Griles and CREA.

On January 10, 2007, The WaPo reported that "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."   Griles was suspected of having lied to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.  And today they settle for basically — nothing.  Thus disappears a guy who may have been able to give a lot of information about Ralph Reed, John Cornyn and others who were involved in Abramoff's Indian gaming shenanigans.

Griles' girlfriend was also a prosecutor at the Justice Department with problems of her own:

The top environmental prosecutor at the Department of Justice purchased a $1 million home with the vice president and top lobbyist of a major oil company just months before granting leniency in its multi million-dollar pollution settlement with the government.

As head of the Justice Department’s 600-employee Environmental and Natural Resources Division, Assistant Attorney General Sue Wooldridge represents practically every federal agency in cases related to pollution, natural resources and wildlife. Houston-based ConocoPhillips, an international company with $164 billion in assets, was ordered to conduct toxic waste cleanup and install $525 million in pollution controls at nine refineries.

Wooldridge quietly signed consent decrees giving the mega oil and energy company an extra three years to complete the costly work. It turns out that ConocoPhillips’ vice president is a good friend and business associate of Wooldridge’s and the company’s top lobbyist, a well-connected former Deputy Interior Secretary, happens to be her boyfriend.

The boyfriend, Steven Giles, is the highest-ranking Bush Administration official being criminally investigated in the Jack Abramoff corruption probe. When Giles left his post at the Department of the Interior he joined a powerful lobbying firm that recently severed ties with him because of his involvement with Abramoff, who is currently in prison.

Giles, Woodridge and ConocoPhillips vice president Donald Duncan are longtime friends who back years. The trio purchased the lavish North Carolina home in a gated community just months before the federal prosecutor granted her friend’s company a lot of extra time to comply with the law.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has launched an investigation into the real estate transaction and the committee’s chairman, a California congressman, said that there appears to be a “breakdown of ethics” at the Justice Department and that Justice Department officials should not be handling cases that affect their close friends and investment partners.

"A California congressman" would of course be Henry Waxman.   

Yesterday prosecutors moved to have Casino Jack's sentence reduced because he was being ever so helpful.  If this is an example of what they bagged with his assistance?   If so he deserves about 5 less minutes.  Maybe. 

Also, there was a nice diary up on Kos about how helpful John McCain has been as head of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in keeping the Abramoff scandal from recoiling on the White House.  Definitely worth a look. 

(h/t emptywheel)

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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