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J. Steven Griles, former deputy secretary of the Interior Department, pleaded guilty in federal court today to one count of obstructing Senate proceedings in connection with his relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. At an arraignment before Judge Ellen Huvelle in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Griles admitted to obscuring the extent of his relationship with Abramoff during investigations by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in 2005. Griles served as the No. 2 official at Interior from July 2001 to January 2005. Prosecutors are asking for a 10-month sentence, with time split between jail and supervised release, and sentencing is scheduled for June 26. Griles’ attorneys, Barry Hartman and Brian Stolarz of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis, plan to seek a shorter sentence. According to the plea agreement, Griles, 59, hid the the extent of his relationship with Abramoff from Senate investigators during an October 2005 interview and a Senate hearing the next month, including that he had been introduced to Abramoff by his then-girlfriend, identified in court documents as Person A. Person A is Italia Federici, who founded the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, which worked closely with Abramoff. In a written statement, Griles’ lawyers tried to highlight the limited nature of the plea, noting that it does not include “ any accusation that Mr. Griles was untruthful with the Committee about specific contacts” or “ any accusation that he did anything improper with respect to Mr. Abramoff” or that he “took anything of value from Mr. Abramoff, because he did not.” His plea agreement does not require further cooperation with the ongoing Abramoff investigation, according to his lawyers. After the hearing, Griles and his lawyers got into an elevator. Griles looked at them and said, “It’s hard.” Griles’ connection to Abramoff stems from his romantic relationship with Federici, according to court documents. Federici introduced Griles to Abramoff in March 2001, shortly before Griles’ confirmation as Interior’s deputy secretary. Abramoff had long supported Federici’s organization, donating $500,000 on his own and through clients from March 2001 to May 2003. Court documents say Griles’ romantic relationship with Federici “gave Abramoff more credibility as a lobbyist,” giving Abramoff “a unique relationship with the defendant that distinguished him from other lobbyists.” Abramoff, with Federici’s help, “sought and received” advice and intervention from Griles on issues affecting Abramoff’s Native American clients, court records state. But during an interview with Senate investigators on Oct. 20, 2005, Griles described his relationship with Abramoff as “no different than others.” Pressed by Senate investigators as to whether Abramoff was “no more distinguishable” than any other lobbyist, Griles replied, “That is a fair statement, that I didn’t distinguish him from anybody else.” Griles repeated these statements during a Nov. 2, 2005, hearing by the Indian Affairs Committee. Though he was not speaking under oath, Griles said, “[Abramoff] also apparently has claimed to have special access to my office on behalf of his Indian gaming clients. That is outrageous, and it is not true,” according to court documents. This isn’t the only time Griles’ romantic relationships have raised ethical questions. A recent paramour, Sue Ellen Wooldridge, resigned from the Justice Department in January. Wooldridge previously served as deputy chief of staff to then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton. While there, Wooldridge and Griles concealed their relationship from several investigators looking into Griles’ contacts with lobbyists � even as Wooldridge responded to the investigators on Griles’ behalf. Griles is the ninth person to face charges as part of the Justice Department’s influence-peddling probe stemming from Abramoff’s conduct. His agreement differs from the recent plea of Interior Department’s Mariana Islands desk officer, Roger Stillwell, who falsely claimed he had not received gifts from Abramoff. Other officials who have pleaded guilty include former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and his former chief of staff, Will Heaton, along with Abramoff and his former associates Michael Scanlon, Tony Rudy, Neil Volz, and Adam Kidan. David Safavian, the former top procurement officer at the Office of Management and Budget, also was convicted on four charges of making false statements and obstructing justice stemming from his dealings with Abramoff.
Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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