updated 1/10/2007 4:43:00 PM ET 2007-01-10T21:43:00

The Interior Department's former No. 2 official has been told by federal investigators that he is a target in the Jack Abramoff corruption probe.

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J. Steven Griles, former deputy interior secretary during President Bush's first term, was notified by letter and told of possible charges at a meeting last week with Justice Department prosecutors, people familiar with the probe said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because the inquiry continues.

Griles told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in 2005 that Abramoff had no special access to him. Griles' attorney, Barry Hartman, has said that committee's report last September found no evidence that Griles acted improperly. Hartman did not immediately return phone calls for comment Wednesday.

Griles has since resumed his work as an energy lobbyist, which he did before joining Interior. It's those ties that were the subject of a host of internal probes while he was at the department.

Additional target
Also being investigated in relation to the grand jury probe is Sue Ellen Wooldridge, the assistant attorney general who oversees the Justice Department's environment and natural resources division, one person familiar with the investigation said.

Wooldridge sent in a resignation letter on Monday, saying she wanted to return to the private sector, Justice Department spokeswoman Cynthia Magnuson said Wednesday. Wooldridge was not commenting publicly.

Before joining the Justice Department in November 2005, she was the Interior Department solicitor and was deputy chief of staff to Interior Secretary Gale Norton while Griles was at Interior.

The Abramoff grand jury has heard from several Interior officials, past and present, in recent days. Roger Stillwell, a former Interior employee who provided Abramoff with information from the department, was sentenced to two years probation and fined $1,000 on Tuesday for failing to report gifts football and concert tickets from Abramoff.

Abramoff is serving about six years in prison for a fraudulent Florida casino business deal and awaits sentencing in a Washington bribery scandal. The Abramoff investigation ensnared its first congressman this fall when former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, admitted accepting gifts in exchange for government action. Several Capitol Hill staffers and a former Bush administration official also have pleaded guilty or been convicted in the case.

Prosecutors are investigating Griles now for possible criminal charges that include lying to Congress and honest service fraud. The latter is a 1988 law saying citizens are guaranteed a right to the "honest services" of public officials.

The charges involve questions about whether Griles falsely testified in 2005 before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee about Abramoff's attempts to hire Griles away from Interior.

The Senate committee's investigation and e-mails detailed numerous contacts with Abramoff and Italia Federici, who was a go-between for Abramoff. Federici headed the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, which she co-founded with Norton.

Federal investigators have been looking at the hundreds of thousands of dollars the group received in donations from Abramoff's Indian tribal clients and from energy and mining companies, including some that were Griles' ex-clients.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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