Washington, DC -- Interior Deputy Secretary Steven Griles attempted to miss a critical legal hearing by claiming the need to "be on official travel on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon for the entire week," according to an agency filing released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The hearing that Griles seeks to avoid will determine the legality of the decision this past July to remove U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers. Griles, the second ranking official and the self-described "Chief Operating Officer" at Interior, is a key witness on "disciplinary" charges leveled at Chief Chambers.
In an August 24th deposition taken at PEER's offices, Griles proved to be a reluctant witness against Chambers, breaking down twice and asking for breaks following questions concerning his personal views as to whether the Interior Department treated Teresa Chambers fairly. In his deposition, Griles confessed that several of the charges against Chambers appeared to lack merit, including admissions that --
- Chief Chambers broke no rule in bringing a personnel matter to him, thus undercutting a charge that Chief Chambers circumvented the chain of command;
- Chief Chambers' interview with the Washington Post did not constitute ‘lobbying" as maintained in another of the charges. Griles is also a former lobbyist; and
- The abrupt transfer of a deputy police chief over Chambers' objections was "arbitrary" and would have disrupted budget preparations. Griles sided with Chief Chambers in reversing the detailing of the deputy.
"Steve Griles testimony is needed to show just how corrupt decision-making is at the upper echelons of the Department of Interior," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization is leading the defense of Chief Chambers. "After examining the agency's top officials, it is obvious these charges were trumped up to silence Chief Chambers' warnings about dangers to the public and to our national icons."
As a result of the Griles rafting trip, the Chambers hearing will be held open for an additional week so that his live testimony may be taken and he may be cross-examined by Chambers' lawyers. Other witnesses in the case include NPS Director Fran Mainella and her deputy, Don Murphy, as well as Assistant Secretary Craig Manson, and his deputy, Paul Hoffman. The hearing is slated to begin in two days on the morning of September 8th.
"How do taxpayers benefit from having Steve Griles paddle a raft?" asked Ruch, noting that the National Park Service agreed to limit unnecessary travel but that Griles is exempt from this economy move. "The only thing ‘official' about this rafting junket is that a high official is along for the ride."