Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sometimes Appearances Matter

The Interior Department is back in the news, although this time it's a couple of alums that are involved, one of whom had transferred to the Justice Department and the other of whom had left government service to become a lobbyist. The AP story appeared in yesterday's Sacramento Bee

Nine months before agreeing to let ConocoPhillips delay a half-billion-dollar pollution cleanup, the government's top environmental prosecutor bought a $1 million vacation home with the company's top lobbyist.

Also in on the Kiawah Island, S.C., house deal was former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, the highest-ranking Bush administration official targeted for criminal prosecution in the Jack Abramoff corruption probe.

Just before resigning last month, Assistant Attorney General Sue Ellen Wooldridge signed two proposed consent decrees with ConocoPhillips: one giving the company as much as two to three more years to install $525 million in pollution controls at nine refineries and the other dealing with a Superfund toxic waste cleanup.

It wasn't just Mr. Griles and Ms. Wooldridge (who are romantically involved) in on the house deal, and this is where the issue gets hot:

Last April, Wooldridge, ConocoPhillips Vice President Donald R. Duncan and Griles had gone together on a $980,000 home in a gated community at Kiawah Island. Records from the Charleston County Auditor's office obtained by The Associated Press list Duncan as a 50 percent owner of the home and Wooldridge and Griles as 25 percent owners. [Emphasis added]

The Justice Department's top environmental lawyer continued to handle a case involving her two investment partners, and that case is about to end with a sweet deal for the company employing one of those partners. Somebody finally noticed.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said Wednesday night it will open an inquiry and request documents into the real estate transaction and consent agreements.

"There appears to be a breakdown of ethics at the Justice Department, said the committee's chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. "Senior Justice Department officials should not be handling cases that affect their close friends and investment partners."
[Emphasis added]

One would certainly think so, but the parties involved claim there was no problem, no problem at all:

"We object to the suggestion that the real estate transaction involving Don Duncan, which was cleared in advance by the ethics office of the Department of Justice, had any impact whatsoever on the consent decrees entered into by ConocoPhillips or the recent SEC filing amending ConocoPhillips code of ethics," company officials said. ...

As for the vacation home, Stephen W. Grafman, Wooldridge's attorney, said she paid for her share and was told by the Justice Department's ethics office a month before the sale went through "that the purchase was not a problem."

Oh, please! First year law students know better. When it comes to conflicts of interest, not only should impropriety be avoided, so should even the appearance of impropriety.

Paul Light, a professor at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service and an expert on presidential appointees, said Wooldridge's participation in the Kiawah Island partnership and the ConocoPhillips settlement "creates the impression of favoritism, or favors due."

"From an appearance standpoint it's awful, and from a legal standpoint it's questionable," Light said Wednesday. "Political appointees have been indicted for less."

The fact that ConocoPhillips got a break on a slam-dunk case certainly doesn't help Ms. Wooldridge's case, even with the green light from Justice.

Heckuva job, George!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grile's girl friend is on legal pleadings in the DOJ dealing with royalites.(a matter that impacted CONOCO/ and BP) Oh wait, billions are missing from USA accounts, and Conoco is suppsoe to be a payor of royalites,(to USA accounts), but it has a sweet little hide away with MISSY in South Carolina on Kiwah Island. How niffty.
Then, Missy Suey Suey hot Chic leaves the DOJ, in some cloud.
But they all say nothing is wrong.
Then, when will the billions missing from MMS(USA) accounts be rectified, or was the damage so major it hurt the USA to protect its assets. Some hose job, just the latest Bush political hack running around the beltway.

11:06 AM  

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