FROM THE ARCHIVE
On the Stand: Witnesses to Contempt
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TUESDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2001

Attorneys representing 300,000 American Indians whose trust assets have been mismanaged for more than 100 years on Monday called to the stand their first witness, a government official who has been at the center of much of the debacle for several years.

Staring with Tommy Thompson, the principal deputy within the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST), the plaintiffs hope to prove their case against Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb. Both officials are facing five contempt charges, dating to issues stemming back to the Clinton administration.

Thompson, though, is but one of nearly 30 witnesses the plaintiffs plan to call during a trial Dennis Gingold yesterday could take months. "It is unfortunate," he said, "that the Secretary and the Assistant Secretary have decided to throw down the gauntlet."

With that in mind, we will be providing a background on witnesses as they are to be called and a review of some of the testimony supplied.

Tommy Thompson
Thompson has served within the OST since 1997, according to his own testimony. He started out as a deputy but also served as acting Special Trustee after Paul Homan quit the Clinton administration in a huff over funding and support.

Currently, Thompson is the Principal Deputy, or second-in-command to the Special Trustee. He is a career service bureaucrat whose position did not require Senate confirmation.

Thompson's knowledge of issues related to the contempt charges is described as vast. He is a manager of a reform project called information collection that would provide the basis for an historical accounting for IIM beneficiaries.

Yesterday, he testified that an accounting analysis was essentially ignored by former Secretary Babbitt in favor of a statistical sampling pilot for which $10 million was obtained from Congress. Nonetheless, he said perhaps only $2 million was spent and still no IIM account has been reconciled.

He also testified that he believed a Federal Register and formal consultation process undertaken by the Clinton administration was a doomed effort. With approval from Babbitt's chief of staff, he withdrew from the project in early 2000 because he said it was "pre-ordained" that account holders would want a transaction-by-transaction and not a statistical sampling.

The process, believed Thompson, was an attempt to show the court and Congress the government was proactive about an accounting while it appealed the case. The government lost the appeal.

Thompson has also been involved in the execution of the High Level Implementation Plan, the government's blueprint for correcting its breaches of trust and for fixing the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust.

Yesterday, he testified that the plan has not always presented an accurate picture of the problems faced by the government. For example, until it was revised in early 2000, the plan claimed there was a backlog of 7,000 land ownership cases.

Thompson said there are now 15,000 probate cases. "Some" progress has been made, he said, "but certainly not what we have hoped for."

Since August 2000, Thompson's office has been responsible for the quarterly reports mandated by Lamberth. The reports have been the subject of heated debate within the Interior, leading to a full-month delay in submitting the 7th one.

Yesterday, he recalled that he and other project managers refused to verify that report because they were concerned about the legal ramifications of doing so. He added that Slonaker didn't verify it, and wouldn't have verified it within the month delay sought by the government.

Thompson said he believed that the 7th report was "inaccurate," supporting a conclusion made by Kieffer. "I would tend to characterize it as misleading," he said.

When asked about the 8th report, which was due last week, Thompson acknowledged that Norton has failed to turn it in.

Also This Week: Marcella Giles
Giles is an Muskogee (Creek) attorney whose clients have included a number of individual Indians on trust cases, particularly in Oklahoma. According to Keith Harper, the Native American Rights Fund attorney on the case, she has knowledge of the Federal Register process.

Giles appeared on 60 Minutes segment on the trust fund that aired in April 2000. Babbitt refused to be interviewed on camera for the program.

Ahead
Future witnesses include Dick Fitzgerald of the OST, former Secretary Bruce Babbitt and his chief of staff Anne Shields, former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover and Dom Nessi, the Bureau of Indian Affairs' former top computer official. Norton, McCaleb, Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles, Solicitor Bill Myers and Special Trustee Tom Slonaker are expected to be called near the end of the trial.

Today on Indianz.Com :
Contested reports focus of contempt trial (12/11)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://indiantrust.doi.gov
Office of the Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov
Trust Management Improvement Project - http://www.doi.gov/bia/trust/tmip.htm
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com

Related Stories:
Norton contempt trial opens (12/10)
Norton attacks court monitor (12/10)
Norton set for contempt trial (12/10)
Indian panel urging BITAM slow down (12/10)
Editorial: Appoint IIM receiver (12/10)
Floods more important than Indians (12/10)

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