"It is one of the worst examples of corruption, abuse and of government putting special interests before the public interest," Salazar told the media in that briefing.
He reaffirmed his pledge to clean up the department.
"That was about sex and drugs and alcohol being brought into a government agency at a very high level, career employees of the department, and from the violations of the law, both at the federal level and at the state level," he said. "And that is absolutely rotten. It shouldn't have happened. ... We are not going to allow ethical lapses within the Department of Interior. If those ethical lapses are brought to our attention, we will take immediate action."
The Obama administration believes it has put the department in capable hands and Salazar's record in the Senate and as Colorado's attorney general would appear to support such a notion. But some environmentalists bristled at the choice when Obama announced it back in December.
The charge was that Salazar was in the pocket of oil and coal companies and that his Senate record included votes in favor of tax breaks for Exxon-Mobil and reduced fuel standards for U.S. automobiles.
Salazar defended his record.
"I believe that there ought to be significantly increased efficiency than cars with the advance vehicle technologies that we have," he said. "And I have been a champion in the Senate Energy Committee. Or the Senate Finance Committee, in terms of pushing forward with incentives for hybrids, for plug-in hybrids, for an electric infrastructure highway that would allow us to move into that new kind of technology."
The League of Conservation Voters scored him with an average of 85 percent positive rating during his tenure in the Senate. He won election in 2004.
"I'm not here to please the environmental community," Salazar said. "I'm not here to please the industry either. You know, we will make the decisions that are right for America. And I think that when the environmental community and industry look back at the record that I have in my state, I think we have done more on the environmental side for land conservation by creating the premier land conservation program in the United States of America and my state. The preservation of and restoration of rivers, preservation of endangered species; I would ask those people who have questions to look at the record."