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McCain won't budge from $8B Cobell settlement
Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) won't budge from an $8 billion settlement for the Cobell trust fund lawsuit, a top aide said on Friday amid complaints about the figure.

At a meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, tribal leaders and individual Indians took turns criticizing McCain's settlement to the case. Several cited a $27.5 billion figure proposed by the Cobell plaintiffs and tribal organizations back in June 2005.

But David Mullon, the general counsel for the Republicans on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, rejected calls for a larger settlement. He said McCain, the chairman of the committee, is sticking with $8 billion.

"We have three weeks and we aren't going to get $27.5 billion," Mullon told the crowd. "It ain't going to happen."

Mullon distributed copies of the latest draft of the settlement legislation. He said it hadn't been approved by McCain or the committee yet but it details some of the provisions that may be included in the bill that will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

Several tribal leaders, including Jim Gray, the chief of the Osage Nation, and John Berrey, the chairman of the Quapaw Tribe, indicated displeasure with the bill. They said it should include provisions to opt out of the proposed settlement in order to continue pursuing mismanagement claims against the federal government.

The Osage and Quapaw are among two dozen tribes with lawsuits that accuse the United States of mismanaging money on behalf of their tribal governments and individual tribal members. The Cobell lawsuit is limited to individual Indian trust funds.

McCain wants a broad settlement package that will resolve future trust claims. John Tahsuda, another Republican attorney for the committee, reiterated the desire to end litigation, citing millions of dollars being paid to accountants and lawyers rather than individual Indians.

Allison Binney, an attorney for the committee Democrats, was due to attend the meeting but had to cancel due to personal issues, Mullon said.

The Tulsa meeting was the last held by the committee to discuss the legislation. Several times, Mullon appeared to lose control of the discussion and had to excuse himself at one point amid criticism from attendees.

McCain said he wanted to get input from Indian Country before proceeding with a bill. But time is running out this year to get a settlement passed and signed into law. McCain is stepping down as chairman of the committee in December. Congress returns to work this week after a month-long break.

The schedule for the bill has slipped considerably. The most recent delay occurred after a last-minute meeting with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

McCain said the Bush administration pledged its commitment to resolve the case but officials waited nearly a year to present their views on the proposed legislation. When news reports of the delay surfaced, the Interior Department contacted reporters to deny it had asked McCain to hold off on the settlement.

The Cobell case was filed in June 1996. The federal appeals court has affirmed the duty of the government to conduct an historical accounting of "all funds" in the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust.

The plaintiffs and the government agree that $13 billion has passed through the system since the early 1900s. But they disagree on the amount that has been paid to IIM beneficiaries.

The $27.5 billion figure is based on the assumption that most of the payments made it to account holders. For the payments that weren't disbursed, the plaintiffs added interest to arrive at their settlement amount, which was endorsed by the National Congress of American Indians and the Inter-Tribal Trust Fund Monitoring Association.

Relevant Documents:
Staff Draft of Cobell Settlement Bill (Posted by ITMA)

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Statement:
INDIAN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE POSTPONES CONSIDERATION OF TRUST REFORM LEGISLATION (August 2, 2006)

Indian Trust Reform Act:
S.1439 | H.R.4322

Relevant Links:
Senate Indian Affairs Committee - http://indian.senate.gov
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Kempthorne - http://www.indiantrust.com
Office of Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm

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