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The Justice Department’s recently departed top environmental prosecutor and a former high-level Interior Department official who has become a target in a DOJ public-corruption probe failed to properly report a number of expensive gifts they exchanged in 2003 and 2004. Financial disclosure documents filed in December with the Interior and Justice departments have shed new light on the romantic relationship between former Assistant Attorney General Sue Ellen Wooldridge and J. Steven Griles, an energy lobbyist who previously served as deputy secretary of Interior. Griles is not the only energy lobbyist with whom Wooldridge had contact. Last March, Wooldridge, Griles, and Donald Duncan, a lobbyist and senior executive for ConocoPhillips, jointly purchased a $980,000 condominium on Kiawah Island, S.C., according to property records. In an interview, Duncan says prior to buying the condo with Wooldridge and Griles, he was concerned about whether the partnership would create the appearance of a conflict of interest, given Wooldridge’s DOJ job. He says he insisted Wooldridge get ethics approval from Justice. Wooldridge consulted with career staff in its ethics office, who informed her the land deal wasn’t a problem, a DOJ spokeswoman says. The details of Wooldridge and Griles’ relationship was first reported by Legal Times earlier this month. Wooldridge and Griles worked together at Interior from 2001 to 2004, during which time Griles became the subject of a number of ethics probes involving his contacts with lobbyists and former lobbying clients. Wooldridge, then deputy chief of staff to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, took a lead role in responding to investigators from Interior’s inspector general’s office. In 2004, she became solicitor of the agency, a position which oversaw Interior’s ethics office charged with ensuring Griles complied with recusal agreements regarding his former lobbying clients. As previously reported in Legal Times, current and former government officials say Wooldridge and Griles hid their relationship from ethics investigators and others involved in the probes at Interior. A senior Justice Department official said Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other leaders were not aware of the relationship until “months” after Wooldridge joined the DOJ in late 2005. In December, Griles and Wooldridge filed amendments to their 2003 and 2004 financial disclosure forms. The changes to the annual reports show that in 2003, Griles gave Wooldridge an $895 bracelet, and she gave him a TiVo video recorder and subscription valued at $420. During that year, according to a report by Inspector General Earl Devaney, Wooldridge was assigned to screen Griles’ contacts with former lobbying clients. In 2004, the amended forms show that Griles favored Wooldridge with a watch worth $1,595 and a trip to Paris that she reported Griles won at auction for $10,000. Among Wooldridge’s gifts to Griles that year: A $900 12-gauge shotgun and a $1,175 watch. In January 2004, the White House nominated Wooldridge to become Interior’s top lawyer. During her confirmation process before the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, Wooldridge was asked directly about the investigations of Griles and how she would ensure ethics agreements at Interior were enforced. In a lengthy written response, Wooldridge made no reference to her relationship with Griles or to any gifts she’d received from him. Wooldridge resigned from Justice on Jan. 8, three weeks after she and Griles filed the changes to the reports. Griles, who left Interior in late 2004 to return to the private sector, quit his lobbying firm on Jan. 10, days after he was notified he was a target in the federal probe into the activities of Jack Abramoff. Stephen Grafman, a lawyer for Wooldridge, says she was not aware until late last year that gifts “given in the context of a personal relationship were reportable events.” Barry Hartman, a lawyer for Griles, says the gift rules are “complicated and convoluted” and says Griles amended his disclosure forms as soon as he learned the gifts should have been reported. Wooldridge’s lawyers say she has testified before the grand jury probing Griles, but that she is not a target of any investigation. They also say she recused herself from matters involving Griles’ clients, during her tenure at Interior and at Justice.
Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].

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