House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for tighter ethics rules in federal agencies Wednesday after government officials approved the purchase of a $980,000 vacation home by a top Justice Department lawyer with an oil company lobbyist.
Pelosi's criticism followed an Associated Press report last week that department ethics officials did not object when Sue Ellen Wooldridge, then head of the environment division, was buying a South Carolina beach house with Donald R. Duncan, the top Washington lobbyist for ConocoPhillips.
"If in fact Ms. Wooldridge got such a pass from the ethics committee of the executive branch, then certainly the executive branch ethics process needs a look as well," Pelosi, D-Calif., said when asked about the house purchase at a San Francisco news conference.
Nine months after the purchase, Wooldridge approved an agreement that allowed ConocoPhillips an extension of pollution cleanup requirements at some of the company's refineries. The company says Duncan was not part of those negotiations.
Department officials and a lawyer for Wooldridge, who resigned from the job in January, said the department's ethics office approved the arrangement and told her she did not need to withdraw from dealings with ConocoPhillips.
The third buyer of the Kiawah Island, S.C., home was Wooldridge's companion, former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles. He is the highest-ranking Bush administration official facing possible criminal charges in the Jack Abramoff corruption probe.
The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility is looking into the home purchase and consent decrees, Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling said in a letter Friday to Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Conyers had asked for an explanation and documents related to the purchase after the AP report. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also is monitoring the case.