The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into whether Gale Norton illegally used her power as secretary of the Interior to obtain three oil contracts for Royal Dutch Shell—which only months later hired her as a legal counsel. The 2006 decision to award Shell leases on oil-rich federal land in Colorado stands to net billions of dollars over several years. Norton resigned from the Cabinet two months later, and soon after was working for the company.
Justice took the case after the Interior Department interviewed numerous employees and concluded there was enough evidence for a criminal probe. When the contracts were awarded, critics blasted Norton for giving Shell three contracts, even though they were intended to go to companies testing a variety of methods. Norton, Bush's first Interior secretary, represented oil and mining companies as a lawyer before joining the Cabinet and was known for her business-friendly approach—although she preferred the term "cooperative conservation."