Last March, Sue Ellen Wooldridge, then the head of the Justice Department’s environmental division, bought a $1 million vacation home with Don R. Duncan, the top lobbyist for oil company ConocoPhillips. Nine months later, Ms. Wooldridge signed off on a settlement agreement that let ConocoPhillips delay the installation of pollution-control equipment and the payment of fines.
Just to make matters cozier, the third owner of the beach house is J. Steven Griles, the former No. 2 official at the Interior Department who’s now the target of a Justice Department criminal investigation into his dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Oh, and Ms. Wooldridge, who lives with Mr. Griles, once worked with him at Interior, where she gave Mr. Griles ethics advice and defended his actions during an inspector general investigation.
Obvious conflicts of interest, flagrant quid pro quo, misuse of government authority, it’s all in there. In bizarro world, where everything works exactly the opposite of here, this administration would be a civics textbook.
Let’s also stipulate that Steny Hoyer has a tin ear. He hasn’t broken any laws, yet, but if Democrats consolidate their authority, and nobody shames him out of this sort of behavior, then it’s a matter of time. For that reason I hope that Sen. Tim Johnson recovers quickly so that he and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (who?) can get their respective ethics committees going full steam. The Democratic party will benefit as much as anybody if overactive Committees open too many ethics investigations rather than too few. The utter dereliction of ethics under the Republican Congress contributed significantly to the astonishing corruption that ensured their catastrophic losses in ’06.