FROM THE ARCHIVE

Griles close to 'perjury' on Indian trust

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WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2002

Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, who swore under oath that he is in charge of Indian trust, came "perilously close" to perjuring himself by trying to smear a court investigator, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

In a scathing decision largely directed at the controversial Bush appointee, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth recited a laundry list of behaviors that bordered on misconduct. Griles omitted key facts, stretched the truth and violated legal ethics principles by going public with the Bush administration's disdain for court oversight, the 18-page ruling stated.

"In this regard, the Deputy Secretary's declaration exhibits an alarming lack of candor and comes perilously close to perjury by omission," Lamberth wrote.

The harsh words came in response to an "unwarranted and meretricious" attack on Joseph S. Kieffer III, the trust fund court monitor. Griles, along with two senior Department of Interior officials, accused the investigator of bias and asked for his dismissal.

They backed up their claims with court statements -- signed under penalty of perjury -- that recounted a contentious April 19 meeting with Kieffer. The officials alleged they were being pressured to make certain decisions or face "negative" consequences, according to court documents.

"The court monitor told us we were not getting good legal advice," Griles stated in his June 4 declaration.

Lamberth zeroed in on these statements and found them to be lacking "veracity." "The declarations on which these allegations are based utterly fail to report accurately the facts," he said.

Griles painted the testy meeting as an "isolated" incident but he in fact had at least 20 such ex parte, or one-sided, discussions with Kieffer for several months, Lamberth noted. Griles was the instigator for all the meetings and, during testimony in Secretary Gale Norton's contempt trial, said they were necessary.

"Defendants waited until the very last moment after a six-month dialogue between the court monitor and the Deputy Secretary to claim that the court monitor's conduct at one meeting of over twenty hour-plus meetings was inappropriate and beyond his authority," he wrote.

Further, Lamberth blasted Griles for breaking the ethical "veil" surrounding the ex parte communications with Kieffer. "[I]t is not the court's intention to compound the violation of the confidential ex parte nature of these discussions (as was done by the Deputy Secretary and his subordinates when they filed their declarations)," the ruling stated.

In addition to the declarations alleging impropriety, attorneys for Secretary Gale Norton cited Kieffer's presence at meetings of a trust reform task force as grounds for removal. They noted his alleged support for special trustee Tom Slonaker, who was eventually ousted by Norton.

Lamberth rejected the claims by refusing to dismiss Kieffer. "Defendants, in their efforts to discredit the court monitor, are grabbing at factual straws and legal sparks in a fruitless attempt to make a disqualification bonfire," he wrote.

He went one step further by increasing his court's oversight role. Kieffer was appointed as a "special master-monitor" and the Interior was ordered to cooperate with his investigations, something the department has been refusing to do since May.

Kieffer will continue to file reports on matters he deems relevant to trust reform. His investigations into the historical accounting and a $40 million computer system formed the basis for Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's contempt trial.

Get the Decision:
Denying Motion to Revoke Court Monitor Appointment | Appointing Special Master-Monitor

Relevant Documents:
J. Steven Griles Declaration | Jim Cason Declaration | Ross Swimmer Declaration

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