Bush’s Department of Interior: Sex, Drugs, and Oil?

“Simply stated, short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior” -Earl Davaney, Interior Department Inspector General, 9/14/06

From oil lobbyists buying million-dollar homes with DOI officials to a high level administrator being sentenced to prison time amid the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, the agency that is tasked with protecting America’s natural resources was wrought with flagrant ethical failures during the Bush administration. Here’s the background on the biggest scandals and the key figures in the DOI under the Bush administration (Timeline, Dossiers):


1983–1989: J. Steven Griles lobbying for energy lobbying firm National Environmental Strategies, Inc.

January 2001: Gale Norton is sworn in as Department of the InteriorSecretary, J. Steven Grilels appointed as Deputy Secretary. Griles required to sign statement saying he will recuse himself from “any particular matter involving specific parties in which any of [his] former clients is or represents a party.”


September 2003: Jack Abramoff offers a job to Griles. Emails reveal Griles was seriously considering leaving DOI at the time.

February 2004: DOI’s Sue Ellen Wooldridge writes letter to Inspector General in support of Griles without disclosing her romantic relationship with her superior.

January 2005: Griles joins lobbying firm run by ex-Cheney energy adviser.

November 2005: Jack Abramoff revealed to have directed at least $250,000 to CREA, Italia Ferici and Gale Norton’s Republican environmentalism group.

March 2006: Gale Norton resigns from DOI, saying ethics scandals did not influence her decision.

March 2006: Gov. Dirk Kempthorne named as new Interior secretary.

September 2006: Interior Department inspector general Earl Davaney issues scathing report uncovering “widespread ethical failures” and Griles a “train wreck waiting to happen.” Allegations included “financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct.”

December 2006: Gale Norton joins Royal Dutch Shell.

March 2007: Disgraced DOI appointee Julie MacDonald revealed to have received cash award of $9,628.

February 2007: Griles revealed to have purchased $1m home with former DOI insubordinate Sue Ellen Wooldridge and a ConocoPhillips lobbyist. Months after the purchase, Wooldridge issued an agreement delaying $500m in ConocoPhillips pollution cleanups.


March 2007: Griles admits to lying about his ties to Jack Abramoff and his girlfriend who acted as the go-between, DOI aide Italia Federici.

May 2007: Report indicates MacDonald leaked internal DOI documents to Chevron employees and the father of an online RPG friend.

May 2007: MacDonald revealed to have received a $9,628 award prior to leaving DOI, a “Special Thanks for Achieving Results award.” The figure is just under the $10,000 mark that would have triggered an investigation by OPM. The bonus was approved by DOI Deputy Sec. Lynn Scarlett.

June 2007: Griles sentenced to 10 months prison time.

December 2007: Italia Federici sentenced to 60 days in a halfway house and four years of probations for tax evasion and obstruction.

May 2008: NOIA issues statement urging lawmakers not to raise liability caps on oil companies following the BP spill.

August 2008: Sightings of polar bears in open arctic ice on the increase.

August 2008: DOI Sec. Kempthorne proposes new regulations that cripple Endangered Species Act.

October 2009: Gale Norton becomes focus of corruption probe regarding possible discussions of her future employment at Royal Dutch Shell as she served as DOI Secretary.


March 2010: Cheney associate and former MMS head Randall Luthi becomes president of offshore drilling industry group weeks before BP oil spill.

Bush’s DOI Insiders

Gale NortonSecretary of the Department of Interior (2001–2006)• Closely linked to Abramoff.• Joined Shell Oil immediately after leaving DOI.• Currently under federal investigation for discussing employment with Shell Oil while she was still DOI Secretary.

Gale Norton served as the Secretary of the Department of Interior from 2001 to 2006, at the height of Jack Abramoff’s influence. At the beginning of his administration, President Bush suspended many of Clinton’s late-term executive orders regarding the environment. One environmentalist called Gale Norton “James Watt in a skirt.” Abramoff clients contributed about $500,000 to Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA), an organization that she created with Grover Norquist and Italia Federici. After taking office, Norton would make a succession of decisions in favor of Abramoff’s Indian casino clients. After resigning from DOI in 2006, Norton joined Royal Dutch Shell — a company that she regularly dealt with in her position as DOI secretary. Under the Obama administration, Norton was subpoenaed by a grand jury for holding discussions with Shell about employment while in the role of DOI Secretary. Under her watch, DOI granted Shell three oil shale releases on federal land, worth as much as hundred of billions.

Lynn ScarlettDeputy Secretary of the Interior (2005–2009)• Former head of Libertarian Reason Foundation.• Leading proponent of “new environmentalism.”

Lynn Scarlett served as acting Secretary of the Interior in between the Norton and Kempthorne appointments, and Deputy Secretary from 2005 to 2009. Formerly head of the Libertarian Reason Foundation, Scarlett was a leading proponent of “new environmentalism,” the strategy employed by conservatives to scale back regulation and to entrust accountability to the private sector. Scarlett was responsible for approving a $9,628 bonus to Julie MacDonald in spite of the controversy over her tenure at DOI. This figure was just under the $10,000 amount that would have triggered a review by the Office of Personnel Management.

Dirk KempthorneSecretary of the Department of Interior (2006–2009)• Selected by Bush for his willingness to push increased oil & gas drilling.• Policies had a crippling effect on the Endangered Species Act.

Dirk Kempthorne served as Norton’s successor as DOI Secretary from 2006 to 2009. Kempthorne was chosen by President Bush to replace Gale Norton as DOI Secretary specifically with the intention of pushing for increased oil and gas drilling in 2006. Under the Kempthorne-managed DOI, federal agencies were no longer required to submit plans to the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. This, wrote The New York Times, led to dangerous “self-consultation” for agencies with very different priorities. According to Kempthorne, the Endangered Species Act “was never intended to be a back door opportunity for climate change policy.” Asked to defend such a change weeks before President Obama was to be sworn in, Kempthorne responded, “we have 39 days of work left.” In the months leading up to the decision, record numbers of polar bears were seen swimming in open water off of the coast of Alaska. Prior to joining the Bush administration, Kempthorne’s political career was largely funded by timber, mining and energy contributions: $86,000 in total, or 8% of his entire campaign war chest.

J. Steven GrilesDeputy Secretary of the Department of Interior (2001–2004)• Former coal lobbyist.• Highest ranking member of the Bush administration to be sent to prison during Abramoff scandal.• Romantically linked to two women in DOI, both involved in scandals.

J. Steven Griles served as Deputy Secretary of the Interior from 2001 until resigning in 2004. In 2004, the DOI’s own inspector general called Griles a “train wreck waiting to happen.” Prior to joining the Bush administration, Griles was a coal industry lobbyist. Griles was the highest ranking member of the Bush administration to be sent to prison during the Abramoff scandal. He was sentenced to a ten months imprisonment after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice. Days after his guilty plea, he would marry his DOI subordinate Sue Ellen Wooldridge, who was part of an ethics scandal involving the purchase of a home with ConocoPhillips lobbyist. Prior to joining the Bush administration, Griles served in the Reagan administration’s DOI then became a coal industry lobbyist with National Environmental Strategies, Inc. Griles continued receiving payment of $284,000 a year from the coal lobbying firm as he served as DOI Deputy Secretary. While at the DOI, he arranged multiple meetings with former oil and gas industry clients and even awarded $2 million in federal contracts to a former client. Griles advised Jack Abramoff on using members of Congress to pressure the DOI and gave him information on internal decision making within the agency. Before his conviction, Griles left the White House to become a lobbyist for ConocoPhillips.

Sue Ellen WooldridgeDeputy Chief of Staff for Sec. Gale Norton• Purchased $980,000 home with J. Steven Griles and a ConocoPhillips lobbyist.• Delayed $500 million pollution cleanup for ConocoPhillips.

Sue Ellen Wooldridge was the Deputy Chief of Staff for DOI Secretary Gale Norton. During her time at DOI where she provided the agency with ethics advice, Wooldridge became romantically involved with J. Steven Griles. Wooldridge went on to the Department of Justice as an attorney in charge of environmental and natural resources. Wooldridge and her romantic partner and once-superior Griles purchased a $980,000 home in March 2006 in South Carolina along with a third buyer: Don R. Duncan, a lobbyist for ConoPhillips. Less than a year after the three purchased the home, Wooldridge delayed $500 million pollution cleanup of a superfund site run by ConocoPhillips. Three days after Griles plead guilty, Wooldridge and he were married.

Italia FedericiPolitical Aide to Gale Norton• Abramoff directed $500,000 to a Federici-founded group in exchange for political favors.• Introduced Abramoff to J. Steven Griles, with whom she was romantically involved.• Convicted of tax evasion, obstruction of justice.

Italia Federici founded the Council of Republican for Environmental Advocacy with Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Norton brought Federici into DOI as a political aide. Federici was also romantically linked to J. Steven Griles, who she introduced to Jack Abramoff, a college friend. Abramoff directed about $500,000 to CREA in exchange for political favors from Federici, stating in an email that Federici’s group was “our access to Norton.” Federici was eventually charged with tax evasion and obstruction during Senate investigations of the Abramoff scandal. In 2007, she was sentenced to two months in a half way house and four years of probation.

Randall LuthiDeputy Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2007)Director, DOI Mineral Management Service (2007–2009)• Career goes back 30 years with Dick Cheney.• Oversaw MMS while it was mired in drug and sex scandals.• Now runs NOIA, an offshore drilling industry group.

Randall Luthi served as Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until being moved to the DOI’s Mineral Management Service (MMS) , where he worked from 2007 to the end of the Bush administration. While Luthi headed MMS, the department was involved in a deep ethics scandal that “[included] allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct.” Luthi is a close ally of Dick Cheney — his career goes back 30 years to when he interned for the former Vice President in 1982. Luthi is currently president of the National Ocean Industries Association, an oil industry group whose goal is to “secure reliable access and a favorable regulatory and economic environment.” Following the BP oil spill, the former MMS director’s organization stood in opposition of raising liability caps on the offshore industry.

Julie MacDonaldDeputy Assistant Secretary, Fish and Wildlife and Parks (2004–2007)• Tampered with findings in scientific studies to favor industry interests.• Disseminated internal DOI documents to oil lobbyists, her own child, and an online videogame friend.

Julie MacDonald worked in DOI under Fish and Wildlife and Parks until resigning amid controversy. According to Mother Jones, MacDonald bullied, insulted, and harassed Fish and Wildlife employees to alter scientific findings regarding the endangered species programs, despite having no background in biology. The Washington Post described MacDonald’s actions as “political medling.” If scientists made one recommendation, MacDonald would alter ther recommendation or ignore it if it “threatened industry or landowners in any way.” One Fish and Wildlife officer said that MacDonald’s influence was so prevalent that “it became a verb for us — getting MacDonalded.” During investigations of her actions, MacDonald was revealed to have disseminated internal DOI documents “to two people with e-mail addresses at Chevron; and to the father of an online role-playing game partner, who had no legitimate reason for access to internal Interior Department records.” Asked about why she sent internal DOI documents to a friend from an online RPG, MacDonald simply responded that she wanted another set of eyes on them, negative comments included. Upon leaving DOI, MacDonald received a $9,628 bonus from Lynn Scarlett, was just under the $10,000 amount that would have triggered a review by the Office of Personnel Management.