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Trust
Bush administration won't give up fight on Cobell


The Bush administration continued its lobbying effort against the Indian trust fund lawsuit on Thursday with the testimony of a senior official who said the Interior Department would approach Congress if the court case doesn't go its way.

Jim Cason, the associate deputy secretary at Interior, told a House subcommittee that the administration is seeking an emergency stay of a court decision requiring a broad historical accounting. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth issued the injunction last month, blasting the federal government's failure to live up to its promises.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has so far declined to grant the stay, instead setting an expedited briefing schedule for a hearing on the matter. The plaintiffs, led by Elouise Cobell of the Blackfeet Nation, welcomed the move last week as a step towards swift justice.

But Cason said the department wasn't looking at the issue as positively. He said Lamberth's order imposes a substantial "risk" on the government because Interior hasn't planned for, or asked for the resources, to conduct the broad accounting.

"The risk that we have is if we do not get a stay and we do not get a successful appeal that we may be back [before Congress] to discuss the resources needed to comply with the order or other alternatives," Cason told the House Interior Appropriations panel.

The leaders of the subcommittee were receptive to Cason's call for action. Last year, Rep. Charles Taylor (R-North Carolina), the chairman, and Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Washington), the ranking Democrat, inserted a rider into Interior's appropriations bill that delayed Lamberth's first order on the accounting.

"This can't happen," Taylor said of $6-12 billion estimate made by Interior, but unverified by outside parties, of the larger accounting. "We don't have those kinds of funds."

Taylor did indicate some restraint because other lawmakers -- most notably Rep. Richard Pombo (R-California), chairman of the House Resources Committee -- objected to the intervention. But Dicks said Pombo and others who criticized the rider need to act.

"This is just not right," Dicks said. "If they do not do something, we may have to step in and do something again."

Cason's lobbying followed the testimony of Interior Secretary Gale Norton last week to a Senate subcommittee and to a House subcommittee earlier in the month. She also sounded the alarm on Lamberth's accounting injunction.

The plaintiffs in the Cobell v. Norton case consider such efforts an affront to the trust responsibility owed to hundreds of thousands of individual Indians. They fought last year's rider and are challenging the administration's appeal to the D.C. Circuit.

"There is no stronger or more disgusting record in history," attorney Dennis Gingold said at a court hearing earlier this month. He said Norton's complaints about the injunction were essentially a repudiation of the trust.

"They believe Indians in this country should be treated differently than anyone else," he said of the government's attitude.

Indian trust management took up the majority of the hearing yesterday although Taylor and Dicks said they had serious concerns about the nearly $110 million in cuts to the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget. Yet "funding for the trust related programs continues to increase," Taylor observed.

"This budget," said Dicks, "moves us in the wrong direction."

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust