Question for an Interior Nominee

Chatterbox has a question for J. Steven Griles, who went before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today to discuss his nomination for the No. 2 spot at the Interior Department. It isn’t a question about Griles’ lobbying on behalf of the mining, oil, and electric industries, or about Griles’ apparent tilt toward these industries during his previous Interior stint in the 1980s. (John Mintz and Eric Pianin wrote about the latter in the May 16 Washington Post.) It’s a question Chatterbox tried to pose to Griles himself, via messages he left at his home, his lobbying firm, and the Interior Department. Griles didn’t answer, so Chatterbox will pose it here.

The question concerns a document, apparently related to Griles’ FBI background check, that Chatterbox received via an intermediate source. (Click here to see it.)  It states that on July 9, 1975, someone named James Steven Griles was charged by the Richmond, Va., police with breaking and entering with the “intent to commit assault felony.” Eventually, it says, this Griles was convicted on the misdemeanor charge of trespassing.

Naturally, Chatterbox is wondering whether the J. Steven Griles discussed in this document is the same J. Steven Griles who is poised to become deputy secretary of the interior. Mark Pfeifle, an Interior Department spokesman, told Chatterbox that Griles would not answer Chatterbox’s question, because “We will not comment on any information that may or may not be in a confidential FBI report.” Before Pfeifle hung up, Chatterbox read him the Social Security number on the document (we’ve obscured it on Slate’s version) and urged Pfeifle to call within the hour if that number revealed this to be a case of mistaken identity. Chatterbox did the same with Griles’ assistant at National Environmental Strategies, the lobbying firm where Griles works. No answer.

Chatterbox thought perhaps he could get the police report from Richmond’s police department. He had the date and the document number (A083953). But the spokesman said that the Richmond police department maintains no police reports prior to 1983. Chatterbox also checked the database, but its records didn’t go back far enough.

If we are talking about one J. Steven Griles, as opposed to two, there may still be a reassuring explanation for why a high-ranking Bush nominee should once have been arrested for attempting to assault somebody. Was he falsely accused? (He was, after all, convicted only of trespassing.) Did he have the misfortune to encounter an overzealous cop? Or, alternatively, was he involved in a violent incident that may raise questions about his fitness to hold high public office? Since Chatterbox can’t answer these questions, he’ll have to settle for asking them.