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Denver Post: Abramoff scandal just won’t go away

EXTRACT: Norton, a former Colorado attorney general, resigned from Bush’s Cabinet in 2006. However, there’s never been any evidence that Norton knew that Abramoff or others were using her name to solicit funds from Indian tribes. She now works as a general counsel for oil giant Royal Dutch Shell – part of the same industry that was near and dear to Interior’s heart. Norton was attacked by environmentalists as Interior secretary for her pro-development policies regarding oil and gas, coal and timber.

THE ARTICLE: Article Last Updated: 03/27/2007 03:22:01 AM MDT

Former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles’ guilty plea to obstruction of justice last week marked another disgraceful chapter in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal.

It also served as a reminder of how poorly the Interior Department and thus the West have been served during the Bush administration’s six years in office.

Griles became the highest-ranking Bush administration official convicted in connection with Abramoff – a still-unraveling scandal that has tentacles all over Washington.

The former No. 2 at Interior, previously a coal-industry lobbyist, pleaded guilty to lying to a Senate committee about his relationship with Abramoff, the disgraced former lobbyist now serving time for fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion.

Griles told the Senate panel that his relationship with Abramoff was the same as any other lobbyist. But Griles’ girlfriend at the time, a lobbyist named Italia Federici, had actually introduced the two. She then acted as a go-between as Abramoff gained direct access to Griles.

Abramoff used his relationship with Griles to convince his Indian casino clients that he had special ties to the department and then influenced them to pay $500,000 to an advocacy group originally co-founded by Federici and Interior Secretary Gale Norton before Norton joined the Cabinet.

Norton, a former Colorado attorney general, resigned from Bush’s Cabinet in 2006. However, there’s never been any evidence that Norton knew that Abramoff or others were using her name to solicit funds from Indian tribes.

She now works as a general counsel for oil giant Royal Dutch Shell – part of the same industry that was near and dear to Interior’s heart. Norton was attacked by environmentalists as Interior secretary for her pro-development policies regarding oil and gas, coal and timber.

Under Norton and Griles, Interior kept at arm’s length all of those who wanted to balance drilling with better protections for wildlife and water quality as they pushed pro-development policies on the West’s public lands. They also promoted other policies that defied good stewardship of public resources, such as selling off tracts of Bureau of Land Management holdings.

Prosecutors have recommended a 10- month prison sentence for Griles, the minimum required. He is the 10th person to face criminal charges in the Justice Department probe into Abramoff.

And the investigation isn’t over yet.

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