The Peregrine Gallery
Sightings from The Catbird Seat
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March 10, 2006
Gale Norton, President Bush's Secretary of the Interior, has announced her resignation amid charges that she and her former deputy, Steven Griles, had close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
On January 3rd this year Abramoff pleaded guilty to charges of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials in a plea agreement that requires his cooperation with investigators. The ongoing Abramoff scandal has exposed a slew of ethical violations and nefarious connections involving high-level officials and Indian casinos. Although she has not admitted to any wrongdoing, Norton may be the highest-level casualty so far.
This much is known: Some $500,000 in tribal money was funneled through Abramoff to a group called the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA) that was founded by Interior Secretary Gale Norton to advocate for things like more clearcutting and fewer environmental regulations. Italia Federici, a Norton associate, headed the organization and helped Abramoff and his clients gain personal access to the secretary. CREA, a registered non-profit, used the money to, among other things, fund a full-page newspaper ad praising the environmental merits of President Bush's plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and a grainy TV spot purporting to show Senator Kerry leaving an Earth Day celebration in an SUV.
As for Griles, the Washington Post reported that the number-two man at Interior "advised Abramoff how to get members of Congress to pressure the department and provided him information about Interior decision-making. In one instance, Abramoff wrote to his lobbying colleagues that Griles would be providing a draft of an Interior letter to Congress to give them 'a head start.'" Abramoff also offered Griles a lucrative position while he was still at Interior, emailing lobbying colleagues that Griles, who had lobbied for mining interests prior to joining the Administration, "is ready to leave Interior and will most likely be coming to join us. He had a nice sized practice before he joined Interior, and expects to get that and more rather soon. I expect he will be with us in 90-120 days."
Norton, a protege of Reagan's highly controversial Interior Secretary James Watt, had also lobbied for the mining and logging industry prior to joining the Bush cabinet. In her five years with the Administration, Norton pressured land managers to expedite oil, gas and mineral leases on public lands, re-opened Yellowstone to snowmobile use, stripped roadless rule and other wilderness protections and championed the President's disingenuously named Healthy Forests Initiative.
In her resignation letter, Norton wrote to President Bush that she was now ready to catch her breath and "set [her] sights on new goals to achieve in the private sector."
From Multinational Monitor:
Bush’s Corporate Cabinet:
Secretary of the Interior
Enters office from Brownstein Hyatt & Farber, P.C., a Denver-based law firm. Colorado attorney general from 1991 to 1999. Worked at the Mountain States Legal Foundation under James Watt from 1979 to 1983. The right-wing law firm is funded by Amoco, Chevron Exxon, Ford and Phillips 66.
Champion of “free-market” environmental policies, corporate environmental self-audits and (during confirmation hearings) drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In the course of her career, she has challenged basic environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act, the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act and clean air legislation as unconstitutional. Suggested in 1991 that property owners have a "right to pollute."
National chair of the Coalition for Republican Environmental Advocates, whose steering committee includes lobbyists for the mining, auto and oil industries and which is funded by American Forest Paper Association, ARCO, American Chemistry Council and Ford.
Lobbied for NL Industries of Houston (formerly National Lead Co.), a lead paint manufacturer named as a potentially responsible party in connection with 75 Superfund sites.
Other clients include: Coors Brewing, Deytel, Global Crossing, First Colorado Depository, National Cable Television Association, New Century Energies, Tempus Resorts International, APCO Worldwide and the Alaska Legislative Council.
Assets: Wells Fargo Bank Investment Account ($100,000 to $250,000).
Boards: Independence Institute; Defenders of Property Rights.
Steven Griles, deputy secretary of interior. Former lobbyist. Clients included the National Mining Association, Occidental Petroleum, Edison Electric Institute, Coalbed Methane Ad Hoc Committee, the Aluminum Association, Energy Corp. of America, Horsehead Resource Development Corp., Integrated Waste Services Association, Pennsylvania Power & Light, Reilly Industries and Tempico.
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October 14, 2006
Why Aren't Gale Norton, Steven Griles, Grover Norquist & Italia Federici In Jail Yet?
Group led by ex-Norton
Mike Soraghan, Denver Post
Washington - A nonprofit group headed by a one-time Colorado associate of former Interior Secretary Gale Norton may have violated tax laws by lobbying Norton's department on behalf of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's tribal-casino clients, a Senate investigation found.
The group - the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, or CREA - is one of five tax-exempt organizations whose activities on behalf of Abramoff were questioned in a 600-page report issued Thursday by the Democratic staff of the Senate Finance Committee.
CREA's president is Italia Federici, who was a fundraiser for Norton's 1996 campaign for Senate in Colorado. It is an extension of a group founded by Norton and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist in 1997.
"It is apparent from e-mail communication that CREA became an extension of Mr. Abramoff's lobbying operation," the report said. CREA reportedly got about $500,000 from Abramoff's tribal clients.
Under law, groups that function as paid lobbyists cannot claim tax-exempt status. "Arguably, the income from the activity should be taxable," the report said.
Contacted Friday by The Denver Post, Federici denied any wrongdoing. She stressed that the report did not accuse her or CREA of fraudulently providing money for congressional travel, laundering money or receiving money in exchange for taking certain positions.
Federici declined the Senate committee staff's request for an interview, with her attorney saying she would invoke her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination to avoid answering questions.
Abramoff was a Washington lobbyist taking in millions from tribal-casino operators and others until he was charged in 2004 with cheating clients.
He has pleaded guilty to fraud and corruption charges. He faces prison time and is now cooperating with an investigation.
E-mails included in the report show Abramoff sought Federici's help in contacting Interior Department officials, including Norton, on American Indian issues such as tribal insurance and casinos.
It said Abramoff "directed his clients to make payments to CREA," and that some of his clients who contributed to CREA "were given a chance to speak one-on-one with Interior Department officials."
To his clients, Abramoff described CREA as "Norton's main group outside Interior" and "the outside advocacy group for DOI (Interior)," frequently referring to Norton as its former chairman. Norton has frequently said she had no affiliation with the group after becoming Interior secretary, though she did attend CREA events.
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Last Updated on July 8, 2007 by The Catbird