Friday :: Mar 23, 2007

Bush Tries To Shut Down Damage From Abramoff

by Steve

While the Democrats are focused elsewhere, the Bush Administration is trying today to close off any future damage from the Jack Abramoff mess by tanking the government's case against former industry lobbyist and Interior Department deputy J. Steven Griles. In a court filing this morning, the Alberto Gonzales Justice Department will now allow Griles to plead simply to one count of obstruction of justice by lying to Congress. But Justice will also ask the court for only the minimum sentence for Griles, and will not demand that Griles cooperate with the government’s pursuit of others, including possibly Abramoff, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, GOP representative John Doolittle, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and Grover Norquist. In essence, the Bush Justice Department is covering its tracks and eliminating any trail to the White House by scuttling this case and allowing Griles to walk away from cooperating with them on other investigations.

In fact, the Bush Administration is trying to bury the Abramoff case itself.

It was just this past January that Justice notified Griles that he was a target in the Abramoff case, and now the Bush Administration has moved to remove Griles as a possible problem for them in that case.

Prosecutors dropped earlier allegations that Griles did anything improper to help Abramoff or gained anything of value from the former Republican lobbyist, the AP was told. The agreement does not require Griles to help investigators with their grand jury probe.
In exchange for the plea, federal prosecutors will seek no more than a 10-month prison sentence for Griles — the minimum they could seek under sentencing guidelines — but they will agree to let him serve half that in home confinement, according to one person involved in the case.
Griles lives in Virginia with Sue Ellen Wooldridge, who until January was an assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's environmental division.

In other words, by proposing this plea deal today, Alberto himself has a conflict of interest given whom Wooldridge used to work for: him.

The AP reported in February that Wooldridge, as the nation's environmental prosecutor, bought a $980,000 vacation home last year with Griles and Donald R. Duncan, the top Washington lobbyist for ConocoPhillips. Nine months later, she signed an agreement giving the company more time to clean up air pollution at some of its refineries.
The Justice Department filed papers Friday morning proposing the plea deal with Griles. He was scheduled to appear Friday before U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle in Washington. Huvelle will likely decide Friday whether to accept or reject the plea. A court decision on sentencing is likely to come two to three months later.

What is also true is that DOJ has run the Abramoff case not from a regional office under a United States Attorney, but rather from headquarters using a revolving door of prosecutors and section chiefs, allowing one constant person to maintain control of the case through this turnover: Criminal Division head Alice Fisher, who has already been accused by Democrats of being an under experienced partisan hack (hat tip to Jane Hamsher). Fisher is now in a position through this turmoil and turnover beneath her to sink the Abramoff case and shut off the Griles problem for the White House while the Democrats are focused on the misdeeds at the district office level.

If the Democrats knew what they were doing today, they would note this action by Justice and immediately demand the appointment of a special counsel due to the obvious conflict of interest here. Of course Alberto would reject such a request, but 1) Democrats want Gonzales to do exactly that as a further nail in his coffin; and 2) Democrats need to signal to the federal judge that she shouldn't accept the government's self-serving plea offer here.

Steve :: 9:22 AM :: Comments (9) :: Digg It!