Government attorneys are taking a different view. Although the indictment was filed during the prior administration, federal prosecutors in Massachusetts have continued to press the case against Cromwell and his co-defendant, David DeQuattro, a non-Indian developer who landed a lucrative contract with the tribe to build a casino on the reservation. “The defendants argue that the indictment fails to allege a quid pro quo,” U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling wrote of the alleged corruption scheme. “They are wrong.” “The quid was the stream of payments and in-kind benefits provided by DeQuattro, and the quo was Cromwell’s agreement to use his influence as chairman of the tribe and president of the gaming authority’s board of directors to ensure that the board did not terminate the contract,” wrote Lelling, who was nominated to his position by Trump. Democrat Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States on January 20, a day after the first motion to dismiss was filed in the case. He has since asked Lelling and other U.S. Attorneys who were holdovers from the Trump era to step down. There is no indication the charges against Cromwell or DeQuattro will be dropped by the new Biden administration. Attorneys for the pair and for the federal government have agreed to stop the clock on the two co-defendants’ right to a speedy trial. The clock has been extended through April 5. But Cromwell’s fortunes could definitely have shifted with Biden in the White House. Before he was indicted, he was actively seeking a prominent job at the Department of the Interior, the federal agency with the most trust and treaty responsibilities in Indian Country. According to people close to the new administration, Cromwell wanted to be nominated as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, a position that oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education, as well as a recently-created entity called the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration. The tribe’s future is also tied to the change in power in the nation’s capital. In his Plan for Tribal Nations, Biden slammed the Republican Trump administration for trying to “take away [land] from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.” “As President, Biden will uphold trust and treaty responsibilities and continue to place land into trust for Indian tribes,” the plan, which was released a month before the November 2020 election, stated.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is promising to fight for a #Carcieri fix in order to prevent the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and other Indian nations from losing their homelands. @JoeBiden #StandWithMashpee https://t.co/bRBM69y5Vo— indianz.com (@indianz) March 31, 2020
Cromwell too was an outspoken critic of the prior president. He noted that Trump used social media to stir up Republican opposition to the tribe and its efforts to keep the reservation in Massachusetts in trust. “Trump had been tweeting about my tribe,” Cromwell said during a forum that took place only two days before the indictment against him was made public. “Very negative things.” Trump’s Twitter account has since been suspended by the social media company, following the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The one-term former president urged his supporters to “fight” for him, falsely suggesting that their efforts could overturn the results of the election that he lost. But long before that, Trump repeatedly employed anti-Indian language on his Twitter account in hopes of derailing the tribe. The racist tactics worked — in May 2019, Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives voted against a bill that would have protected the reservation from being taken out of just. The measure never came up for consideration in the U.S. Senate, which was in control of the GOP at the time. “Please remind yourself that we have much to be grateful for, that we love one another and that our business will be be looked after as it always has been and that as WE look forward to an upcoming tribal election and more prosperous and peaceful era being ushered in with the changing of US President and administration, Mashpee will remain,” Vice Chairwoman Jessie Baird, who is the highest-ranking leader on the tribal council following Cromwell’s ouster, said in a message last November.
In the midst of a pandemic, the Trump Administration chose to expend effort to attempt to disestablish the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s reservation. #IStandwithMashpee and with all of Indian Country. https://t.co/5Z6nZjClAf— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) March 31, 2020
In light of the missteps, a federal judge has ordered the BIA to deliver a new decision on the tribe’s land-into-trust application, which was first submitted in August 2007. The outcome is in the hands of the Biden administration. Prior to Mashpee, the federal government had never attempted to take a reservation out of trust since the disastrous termination era of Indian policy of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, in which the U.S. sought to disclaim its trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal nations. Congress repudiated termination in the 1970s, adopting a policy of self-determination and greater recognition of tribal self-governance and tribal sovereignty.
"Don't let them pressure you into doing the wrong thing," Vice Chairwoman Jessie "Little Doe" Baird of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe told Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney. In the eyes of tribal leaders, the wrong thing just happened — under Sweeney's watch. pic.twitter.com/HqeFrySVYi— indianz.com (@indianz) March 10, 2020
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