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Simmons also wrote:
For both the lifetime and two-year restrictions, if you are ever in doubt as to whether a matter was under your official responsibility, whether it was pending during your last year of service, whether it was one in which you were personally and substantially involved, or whether the United States still has an interest in the matter, please consult with my office for guidance.
When we interviewed Simmons, she said that prior to providing this memorandum to Norton, she met with the Secretary to provide a post-employment briefing. Simmons stated, I went and briefed her verbally about what all the restrictions were and when they would apply. Simmons thought this briefing took place in Nortons office and that Brian Waidmann attended. Simmons said she subsequently provided the March 13, 2006 ethics memorandum, which she thought she personally handed to Norton, so Norton would have something to refer to if she had questions in the future.
On June 2, 2006, approximately 2 months after leaving DOI, Secretary Norton sent an email to Simmons. Norton asked Simmons if there were prohibitions against her contacting other departments or the White House because she was interviewing for a job that might involve such contact. In an email response 3 days later, Simmons wrote that pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1), Norton was subject to a lifetime restriction relative to specific party particular matters with which Norton was personally and substantially involved while at DOI.
Simmons said she thought Norton was asking if there was anything beyond what Simmons had already discussed with her, both verbally and then in writing, in March 2006. Simmons used this email to reiterate everything that she had previously told Norton about post-employment restrictions, including the lifetime ban.
On June 6, 2006, Norton sent a second email to Simmons. Norton asked Simmons if she could pose a few semi-hypotheticals. Norton then described her role in the RDD process:
I was briefed on the initial rounds of decisionmaking [sic] on research and development leases for oil shale. The ranking of applicants was done in a numerical manner by DOI and state experts. The original applicant pool was narrowed down, and the finalists underwent more in-depth review. Thats where things stood when I left the department. I dont know if final leases have been issued.
Although this may not be the case, lets assume I would be permanently barred from coming back and asking Interior to cancel or issue one of these leases, or challenging the leasing decisions in court. Lets also assume the one-year cooling off period has expired.
Norton then went on to ask three specific questions concerning her possible future activities, as follows:
1. Would the prohibition extend to, e.g., contacting [the Environmental Protection Agency] about an air quality permit for the facility to be built on the lease?
2. Would the prohibition prevent contacting [the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DOI] about an endangered species affecting construction plans (but not affecting the issuance of the lease itself)?
3. Would it affect representing the company 2 or 3 years from now on getting a future lease (i.e., a full development lease for which the leasing process does not yet even exist yet?)
Agents Note: During her November 15, 2005 meeting on oil shale at DOI, Norton raised these same issues regarding the RDD leases. She advised Ted Murphy and others that air quality was an issue that BLM should be concerned about, and she asked if there were any endangered species in the RDD lease areas. In addition, the hypotheticals Norton raised in her email to Simmons appear to very specifically describe potential work she could be doing for Shell as it related to its RDD leases. Whether Shell is the company Norton is referring to in the third question, seen above, is unknown.
In closing, Norton wrote, I dont yet have any prospective clients on oil shale, but it is the biggest energy issue in Colorado right now, so the answer affects the areas in which I might try to focus law firm practice.
In an email response the next day, Simmons wrote:
I think the permanent ban might not apply based on your description of how you were involved in this issue while Secretary [I]f we assume you are covered by the permanent ban, I think the work with EPA would not be part of that because it would be a different matter from the original lease, unless the obtaining of air quality permits are specifically directed in the lease terms, and obtaining such permits are conditions of the lease. If this latter situation is true, then one might think that seeking an air quality permit would be part of the same particular matter involving that specific party.
When interviewed, Simmons stated that when she wrote that the permanent ban might not apply, she was specifically addressing the question regarding contacting the EPA, and she was not implying that the permanent ban did not exist. Simmons also stated that in her email she specifically pointed Norton to an OGE opinion that contained a very broad description of the permanent ban. Simmons said by pointing that out and suggesting that Norton read it, she thought Norton might respond with more detailed questions about her situation, but that did not occur.
Simmons further stated that in her response to Norton she asked the former Secretary if she was briefed during the RDD applicant selection process and if she was asked to set any direction for the process. Simmons asked these questions because they related to the issue of personal and substantial participation. Norton never responded to the questions raised by Simmons.
Simmons said she provided an ethical opinion to Norton without first receiving a response to her own questions because she [wanted] to give [Norton] the benefit of [her] thinking in the current moment, in the current state of facts as she listed them. If she came back and qualified it in any way, I would revisit what I told her. Simmons said if Norton had provided her with additional
or different information, her opinion might have been different. Simmons also said the information she provided to Norton was not a formal ethics opinion. Simmons stated, Shes a lawyer. She can read [18 U.S.C. § 207] as well or better than I, and personal and substantial involvement, right there, front and center.
Second Ethics Contact: Melinda Loftin
In late 2006 or early 2007, Secretary Norton participated in both a face-to-face meeting and a telephone discussion with Melinda Loftin, who succeeded Simmons as the Designated Agency Ethics Official.
We interviewed Loftin, who stated she met with former Secretary Norton at Nortons request.
The meeting between Loftin and Norton took place in late January or early February 2007 in Loftins office at DOI. This meeting occurred after it was publicly announced that Norton would be joining Shell. Loftin recalled that Norton said she was planning on working for Shell, and she therefore wanted to know about things that could be considered under particular matters [and] personal and substantial involvement, which would result in a permanent ban on representations by Norton before the Government. Norton wanted to get an understanding of the restrictions that applied to her representation of Shell, and in particular her representation on oil shale issues, Loftin said.
After reviewing the handwritten notes she took during this meeting, Loftin said her notes indicate that Norton told her:
She was involved in the discussions that took place relative to starting the oil shale program at DOI;
She was not involved in the Federal Register notice process, and instead this issue was probably managed by BLM;
She was involved in overall discussions, but not these particular matters, which would have been handled by BLM;
A BLM group reviewed the RDD applications and decided on the selectees. She was not involved in this process and did not help establish the selection criteria. She was briefed
on the findings of this review group but that the briefing was only informational and not decisional;
She was not giving approvals during this process;
She and David Bernhardt toured a Shell oil shale facility on private land in Colorado;
Twenty RDD applications were received by BLM, and six or eight applications were selected as finalists. Shell, Chevron, and a third company were selected to receive leases; and
BLM awarded the leases after she left DOI.
We asked Loftin if Norton told her how many total briefings she attended on this matter, and Loftin said Norton only discussed the briefing on the findings of the application review group. Thats the only one she talked about, Loftin said. Loftin told us that based on Nortons statements, she understood that Norton participated in only one briefing from BLM on the RDD leases.
According to Loftin, Norton told her that David Bernhardt was involved in the oil shale process as well, and he would have a better understanding of how she was involved. Loftin said Norton wanted her to talk to Bernhardt about Nortons involvement in oil shale. Loftin said she spoke to Bernhardt within 1 week of meeting with Norton because she wanted to know his thoughts on whether Nortons involvement in oil shale matters reached the level to where she was involved personally and substantially on a particular matter involving specific parties.
In response, Bernhardt told her that Nortons involvement did not reach this level. Instead, she said, Bernhardt told her that BLM managed the RDD process.
Loftin concluded that based on Nortons own statements, which Bernhardt substantiated, Norton was not personally and substantially involved in the RDD leasing process. Loftin said she was sure that at some point during their discussion, she told Norton that she could represent Shell before DOI but that the representation would potentially be subject to the three restrictions (the 1-year cooling off period, the 2-year ban, and the lifetime ban), which were designed to prohibit former employees from using their influence.
Loftin said that she did not make any specific decisions, or give any specific advice, on what she felt Norton could or could not do for Shell. Rather, Loftin said she and Norton were simply having a discussion. The intent was to have further discussions as the need arose to discuss specific topics, she said. Loftin said she felt that Norton left the meeting not with specific guidance on these topics but instead with clarity on Loftins positions on them.
According to Loftin, a second meeting with Norton took place by telephone on February 1, 2007.
Two Shell Attorneys in Colorado and Loftins Deputy also participated in this call, she said.
Loftin said she was certain this telephone meeting occurred after her in-person meeting with Norton.
While reviewing notes dated February 1, 2007, that she took during this telephone meeting, Loftin stated that during this call, she discussed with the two Shell Attorneys how she had explained the different ethics requirements to Norton during their face-to-face meeting. This would have included a discussion of the 1-year cooling off period, the 2-year ban, and the lifetime ban, she said. Loftin said she probably referred to her notes from their first meeting during this discussion.
The fact that Norton attended only one BLM briefing on the RDD leases was also discussed, she said. Loftin said she reiterated during the call that since this meeting with BLM was an informational meeting and not a decisional one, it appeared as though the 2-year ban was applicable. Loftin did not recall providing any advice to Norton during this telephone discussion and stated that this was also a general discussion.
We interviewed the Alternate Agency Ethics Official, DOI Ethics Office, who recalled Loftin asked her to participate in a telephone call with former Secretary Norton and one or more Shell officials. She said that during the call, Norton stated her work for Shell would involve oil shale, but she did not describe the specific work she would be doing or how it would involve oil shale.
She said it was her impression, based on statements made during the telephone conversation, that Norton was new to her position at Shell.
The Alternate Agency Ethics Official stated that during this call, Loftin provided the standard post-employment information that would have been applicable to Norton. This included a summary of the post-employment restrictions and a discussion of 18 U.S.C. § 207, including a reminder concerning 18 U.S.C. § 207(c), which applied to senior officials such as Norton. She said none of the opinions provided by Loftin seemed unusual or out of the ordinary, and they were consistent with her understanding of the law. She stated there was no specific discussion about any particular activities or work in which Norton was participating. The discussion was general and involved the law as a whole and not how it applied to any particular situation in which Norton was, or planned to be, involved.
Loftin said none of her discussions with Norton were detailed, primarily because at the time of these discussions, Norton did not know exactly what kind of work she would be doing for Shell.
The investigation revealed that by the time Loftin and Norton met, it had been publicly announced that Norton would be joining Shell as General Counsel to provide and coordinate legal services for SURE, which was testing and developing oil shale technology.
A November 2006 Job Description obtained during the investigation from Shell identified the specific duties of SUREs General Counsel, some of which are identified as follows:
Shares responsibility and as appropriate takes a leading role for representing the SURE group and ultimately the Shell Group in negotiations, discussions and other dealings with third parties, including the U.S. federal, state and municipal governmental and regulatory authorities;
Shares responsibility for monitoring and pro-actively responding to legislative and regulatory issues and developments that affect SURE activities in the U.S. and elsewhere;
Represent[s] or advise[s] the SURE and the Shell Group in dealing with all manner of governmental agencies, authorities and representatives, both US [sic] and internationally;
Advise[s] on the strategic direction of SURE and the Shell Group as they relate to SURE;
Responsible for the legal aspects of land acquisition and lease negotiations, site permitting for potential SURE future commercial projects in the United States;
Promotes a favourable [sic] image of the SURE Group and the Shell Group by maintaining effective external relationships with senior levels of government.
III. Secretary Nortons Employment Negotiations with Shell
We interviewed Rebecca Watson, who served as the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management at DOI between 2001 and October 2005. Watson stated that in 2005, Secretary Norton knew she was leaving DOI and was seeking face time with companies that might be interested in her background for employment purposes.
Agents Note: Watsons statements are supported by published reports that indicate Secretary Norton planned to leave DOI prior to September 2005 but remained with the Department in order to manage matters related to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Secretary Nortons last day in office was March 31, 2006.
Watson said Kit Kimball, Director, Office of External and Intergovernmental Affairs, told her she set up meetings with prospective employers for Secretary Norton. Watson said she did not know if Secretary Norton knew Kimball was doing this, but Kimball was fond of Norton and wanted her to be successful after she left DOI.
Kimball said she knew the Secretary really did not want to go back to private law practice after leaving DOI. Kimball recalled asking Secretary Norton at some time, perhaps in 2006, what she wanted to do after leaving DOI. Kimball said she was very surprised to hear Norton say she wanted to run her own recreation company.
Kimball said that as a friend to Norton, she felt she should do what she could to help her secure employment after leaving DOI. She was also concerned Nortons reputation was damaged by the Jack Abramoff lobbying and corruption scandal, and she would have difficulty obtaining a job.
She did not know if Norton was similarly concerned, and Norton never discussed this with her.
Kimball thought Norton believed onlookers viewed her as impartial, fair, and thoughtful, and these qualities would help her secure employment after leaving DOI. Kimball felt the job search may not be as easy as the Secretary thought it would be.
When Kimball asked Norton directly if there was anything she could do to help in her job search, Norton told her that if she thought of any specific employment opportunities she should let her know about them. Kimball thought she may have prepared a list of job opportunities for Norton but did not recall with certainty. Kimball was not concerned about ethical considerations in this regard because she was certain Norton would comply with these requirements. Kimball never scheduled meetings with prospective employers for Norton. Kimball said she may have scheduled a meeting with someone Norton eventually talked to about employment, but that was never the intent of the meeting. Kimball said, You dont go to work usually for people youve never heard of or met.
Our investigation also identified a number of other contacts Norton had with Shell not involving oil shale. For example, Norton met with Shell officials in July 2005. Then again in November 2005, she attended a reception with a former Shell employee. We did not develop specific evidence to indicate that she discussed her potential employment with Shell during either of these contacts. Instead, Norton appears to have first considered employment with Shell in June 2006 as evidenced by her email to Simmons discussing oil shale. Actual discussions with Shell do not appear to begin until late July 2006.
A review of documents obtained from Shell revealed that on August 14, 2006, a Vice President emailed another Shell employee about Norton. In this email, the Vice President wrote, After Gail [sic] Norton and I visited a few weeks ago, she followed up orally with an expression of interest in pursuing a career with Shell. I told her that I had passed on to you an email summarizing her and my discussions Yesterday she sent me a follow up email expressing strong interest in chating [sic] with you The Shell employee wrote that he would be pleased to meet with her.
On August 31, 2006, Norton emailed her resume to a Shell employee. The Shell employee forwarded it to another Shell employee the next day.
This Shell employee emailed a number of persons at Shell on September 1, 2006. He wrote:
Secretary Norton served Pres. Bush as Secretary of the Interior and remained until earlier this year. During her tenure Shell had considerable interactions with her During this time she got to know Shell through a number of other Shell employees and executives. There has been universal agreement that her skills and abilities were helpful to Shell Six months out of office, the Secretary is now considering her next career steps and has inquired as to possible opportunities at Shell, esp. in the SURE organization She could be a most interesting addition to our Legal Dept., initially working in SURE. She could also be a contender for senior legal roles, including U.S. General Counsel.
On November 14, 2006, a Shell employee emailed several Shell employees, writing, Gale has given a verbal acceptance to the offer as stated We will arrange to move her from Washington, DC to Denver as part of our normal US relocation.
Norton emailed another Shell employee 2 weeks later stating, I look forward to receiving [a] letter this week to formalize my joining Shell. Shell received Nortons signed acceptance letter 3 days later.
Other documents obtained during the investigation substantiate the chain of events as outlined by these emails. For example, on January 4, 2007, Norton was deposed in a matter related to the Federal tribal acknowledgment process. In that deposition, she stated she was not currently employed but would be starting January 15
as General Counsel for Shell Unconventional Resources Energy in Denver. She also stated she had been offered the job within the last six weeks or so.
The review of Shell documents confirmed that Norton assumed her position as Associate General Counsel for SURE on January 15, 2007.
IV. Post-Employment Contact With Federal Government
The review of documents from Shell identified a November 29, 2006 email from one Shell employee to another Shell employee. He wrote, [I was] just informed that SURE has hired Sec. Norton as their general counsel I hope we too can tap her for DOI issues.
We identified two instances in 2008 where Norton had contact, either directly or indirectly, with Federal officials regarding oil shale issues.
In June 2008, the former Secretary contacted Keith E. Eastin, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environment, and Paul Bollinger, one of Eastins deputies, concerning
legislation affecting oil shale development. Eastin referred Norton to Bollinger. Bollinger offered to be helpful in the future.
Scott Stewart, Associate Director, DOI Office of External and Intergovernmental Affairs, left DOI on June 7, 2006, to take a job with Shells Unconventional Resources Division, where he began working on July 10, 2006.
When we interviewed an attorney from SOL, he recalled that the former DOI Associate Solicitor for Mineral Resources would get calls from Scott Stewart after Stewart left DOI and went to work for Shell. He said the DOI Associate Solicitor for Mineral Resources last day at DOI was August 1, 2008, after which he went to work for the Department of Defense. The SOL attorney stated that as the Associate Solicitor for Mineral Resources was leaving DOI, he asked him to return a call that Stewart had made to him.
The SOL Attorney said he talked to Stewart on or about the week of August 4, 2008, and said both he and another SOL Attorney who worked under him, telephoned Stewart in response to Stewarts call to the Associate Solicitor for Mineral Resources. During this discussion, Stewart represent[ed] that hes working for the former Secretary at Shell. Stewart then went on to tell the SOL attorney that Gale Norton wanted to know whether or not DOI would accept comments on the economic analysis portion of the Environmental Impact Statement for the commercial oil shale leasing regulations, even though DOI had not solicited comments. They wanted to know whether or not [comments] would be unwelcome or welcome, he said. The SOL attorney and his associate advised Stewart that if there were errors in either the environmental assessment or the economic analysis that DOI would want to know about them.
We interviewed the second SOL Attorney who stated that he did remember participating in this call. He could not recall the details of the call but did remember the issue concerned whether or not DOI was accepting comments. He said this would have involved the EA for the commercial regulations and the accompanying economic analysis. He said an SOL Attorney probably asked him to participate in the call because he had been working directly on the oil shale commercial regulations and associated Environmental Impact Statement, as well as on the RDD EAs, and it
made sense for him to participate. The second SOL Attorney did not recall if Stewart referenced Norton during this discussion.
Gale A. Norton, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, 2001 March 31, 2006.
We provided the results of our investigation to the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined criminal prosecution.