The scandal over the government's top environmental prosecutor's purchase of a vacation home with an oil lobbyist isn't dying down, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) calling yesterday for tighter federal ethics rules.
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But the story goes far beyond that one glaring conflict of interest. It's merely one troubling aspect of a romantic relationship between the Sue Ellen Wooldridge, who headed up the Justice Department's environmental division, and Steven Griles, the former energy lobbyist and Deputy Secretary of the Interior who's well on his way to being indicted as part of the Jack Abramoff investigation.
It's not your typical love story.
Griles came to the Interior Department in 2001, leaving a practice lobbying for coal, oil, and other corporate interests to help oversee the country's resources. Unsurprisingly, ethics officials were on his case almost immediately for allegedly lobbying on the inside for his former clients. On one occasion, for example, he called over to the Environmental Protection Agency to urge that an environmental study not delay a huge coal-bed methane project planned by his former clients in Wyoming and Nevada.
So to ensure that Griles not roam too freely, an Interior official was assigned to keep an eye on him. That official: Sue Ellen Wooldridge, then the deputy chief of staff to Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
After a couple of months, the two were dating.
But they didn't tell that to anyone at the Interior Department, especially not the Inspector General, who was investigating Griles for ethics violations.
The relationship began in February, 2003, according to The Washington Post. And during that year, they gave each other "thousands of dollars in gifts and trips" -- only they didn't report them on their disclosure statements (required of federal appointees) until they filed amendments late last year as investigators were bearing down on them.