FROM THE ARCHIVE
Interior Solicitor on trust fund crash course
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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2001

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's top legal official appears to be on a collision course to contempt for his handling of the trust fund, according to internal memoranda, court documents and court reports.

Although he has been on the job just three months, Interior Solicitor Bill Myers has already drawn the ire of senior officials, top-level management and a court watchdog overseeing the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit. A former cattle industry lobbyist who sued the Clinton administration a number of times, the Idaho attorney has now found himself on the other side of the fence.

Appointed by President Bush in March and sworn in to his post in July, Myers jumped into the debacle quickly. But rather than taking "concrete steps" to "ensure the success of trust reform" -- as Norton's attorneys have claimed of the Bush administration -- his participation in what court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III calls a "charade" appears to have hindered progress.

Special Trustee Tom Slonaker has fought to submit more accurate reports to the court. Yet when Slonaker raised his concerns, Myers subjected him to "criticism and obstruction," according to Kieffer.

"When he finally pointed out that the 'king may have no clothes' [Slonaker's] concerns were subjected to questioning by no less than the Secretary of the Interior’s Solicitor at the direction of the Secretary," wrote Kieffer on September 17.

Due to the ensuing conflict, Norton's attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth for permission to turn in the report a month late. But an internal memo indicates Myers and government attorneys not only misrepresented the reason for the delay, they did so over Slonaker's objections.

In a court motion, the government told Lamberth the extension was necessary to resolve Slonaker's concerns. Yet -- on at least four separate conversations prior to the filing of the motion -- Myers and a member of his staff were told Slonaker's "opposition" to the request, according to the September 4 memo.

Nevertheless, the Department of Justice -- on behalf of the Interior -- did not modify the motion. And during a subsequent interview with Kieffer, Slonaker confirmed he didn't support the delay because he thought it would take more than a month to allay his fears.

Myers' actions didn't end with Slonaker, though. After Slonaker refused to accept the report, Myers asked all trust reform managers to "verify" the information.

Five of them, however, refused. In a highly-charged letter, a group of managers suggested Myers was out-of-bounds for pressuring them not once, but twice, to certify the report.

"[Y]our request appears to be a simple repeat of the earlier 'opportunity' to certify," the managers wrote on September 27, "but possibly more intimidating."

Despite these fears, when the government finally turned in the report late -- without Lamberth's approval -- attorneys championed an "agreement" Myers made with the managers. But when interviewed by Kieffer, who attended the meeting during which the supposed agreement was brokered, several managers expressed serious doubts.

"It was not clear that the Solicitor had clarified this understanding with the subproject managers," Kieffer wrote yesterday.

As a result, Kieffer said, the agreement is "farcical" and will prevent future reports from every telling the truth to the 300,000 Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holders whose assets have been mismanaged since their ancestors were forced into the trust system more than 100 years ago.

Myers and other members of the Bush administration "have plied this Court, the Congress, the IIM account holders, and the public with statements of progress and metaphors" that landed former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in contempt of court, concluded Kieffer.

Myers, through his office, declined to comment and referred all queries to the department. A spokesperson yesterday would not respond to any specifics in Kieffer's latest report, only saying Norton's attorneys would file a response within 10 days.

Myers has kicked two members of his staff off the trust fund due to allegations of misconduct. He has also asked the Office of the Inspector General to conduct an internal investigation of a number of incidents related to the debacle.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Norton blasted on trust fund (10/17)

Indianz.Com Profile:
Solicitor: Bill G. Myers (3/30)

Relevant Links:
Office of the Solicitor - http://www.ost.doi.gov/sol
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com

More on Myers:
Memo: Solicitor's order was 'intimidating' (10/10)
In The Hoop: Interior Bungling (10/10)
Infighting delaying trust fund fix (9/20)
Norton hit on trust fund progress (9/18)
Objections delaying trust fund report (9/6)
Norton pushes trust fund progress (8/27)
Trust fund holders call for contempt (8/28)
Norton pushes trust fund progress (8/27)
Norton challenges trust fund monitor (8/23)
Internal trust fund investigation sought (8/22)
Bush nominee has no 'agenda' on Clinton decisions (6/21)

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