March 24, 2007 in Nation/World

Former Interior deputy guilty of obstruction

John Heilprin Associated Press
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles testifies regarding Jack Abramoff in 2005.
(Full-size photo)

Nethercutt link

After he left the Interior Department, J. Steven Griles became a partner in a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm in January 2005 with George Nethercutt, a former Republican congressman from Spokane, and Andrew Lundquist, a former White House energy policy director. The firm announced Griles had resigned as a partner in January, the day the news media reported he had been informed he was a target of federal prosecutors.

WASHINGTON – Former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles on Friday became the highest-ranking Bush administration official convicted in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal, pleading guilty to obstructing justice by lying to a Senate committee.

The former No. 2 official in the Interior Department admitted in federal court that he lied to investigators about his relationship with convicted lobbyist Abramoff, who repeatedly sought Griles’ intervention at Interior on behalf of Indian tribal clients.

Griles, an oil and gas lobbyist who became an architect of President Bush’s energy policies, is the ninth person convicted in a continuing Justice Department probe. The government is still actively investigating other public officials linked to Abramoff, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Abramoff’s ties to at least three other current or former Republican lawmakers have come under scrutiny in the criminal probe: Rep. John Doolittle of California, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and former Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana. None of them has been charged; all have denied wrongdoing. One former House member, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, already is serving a jail term on a guilty plea.

Griles pleaded guilty to a felony charge of obstruction, admitting in a plea agreement that he lied in testimony before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Nov. 2, 2005, and during an earlier deposition with the panel’s investigators on October 20, 2005.

“I am sorry for my wrongdoing. I fully accept the responsibility for my conduct and the consequences it may have,” he said in a statement. “When a Senate committee asks questions, they must be answered fully and completely and it is not my place to decide whether those questions are relevant or too personal.”

Prosecutors recommended that Griles serve no more than a 10-month sentence – the minimum they could seek under sentencing guidelines.

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