Probe into Indian trust fund ouster expands
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A leading Senator is calling for an investigation into the ouster of the Department of Interior's top Indian trust official, a probe that threatens to expose White House political involvement in litigation affecting billions of dollars in government mismanagement.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Tom Slonaker's departure as Special Trustee for American Indians was a "troubling" development in the ongoing trust fund scandal. "I intend to seek additional congressional review to investigate further the implications of Mr. Slonaker's resignation," he wrote in a letter to Secretary Gale Norton.

In another letter to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, called for an immediate hearing. "I am certain you will appreciate the serious nature of this continuing problem and the need for review of these recent events," he wrote.

The request by McCain, a member and former chairman of the Indian panel, came as attorneys for Indian account holders expanded a probe of their own into the debacle. Keith Harper of the Native American Rights Fund issued subpoenas to five Bush administration officials and attorneys he said took part in Slonaker's surprise ouster last week.

Norton, Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles, two Department of Justice attorneys and a White House lawyer who provides advice to President Bush were asked to report to depositions August 30 at the NARF office in Washington, D.C. Ross Swimmer, a former assistant secretary who has taken over a number of Slonaker's old duties, is also being sought, said Harper.

The developments were the latest since Slonaker said he was forced out after a rocky year in Indian trust. He told Indianz.Com in an interview that Norton, Griles and Brian Waidmann, Norton's chief of staff, took part in a Tuesday afternoon meeting when the bad news was given.

"I was asked to leave," Slonaker said.

The blunt directive occurred just days after Slonaker bristled with Department of Justice and White House attorneys over testimony he was to provide to Congress. The Indian committee sought his views on the Bush administration's proposal to account for funds owed to more than 500,000 Indian beneficiaries.

"They took exception to what a lot of what I was planning to say in the written testimony," he said of the government attorneys. "Two-thirds of the document was stricken."

Slonaker appeared before the committee -- with the department's support, he stated -- and gave a less than glowing assessment of the accounting plan. He suggested that his views contradicted the government's position on more than 20 lawsuits citing trust asset mismanagement.

"I think Justice may take a pretty strict view of what can help or harm their case," he said.

Slonaker last week could not recall the names of the attorneys who took part in the the tele-conference call, which he said occurred around 6:30 p.m. on July 24. Harper, in the subpoenas, identified the group as Kelly Johnson and Jeffrey Clark of the Department of Justice and Kyle Sampson of the White House.

"If you're calling about Kelly and Jeff asking Tom Slonaker not to testify," said Dana Perino, a DOJ spokesperson, "they did not."

Due to the ongoing Cobell class action, which affects individual Indian beneficiaries, and several related tribal cases, government sources said it wasn't unusual that both the DOJ and the White House were concerned about Slonaker's testimony. They said DOJ attorneys often consult the White House on litigation.

Johnson and Clark are mid-level Bush appointees to the environmental and natural resources division, which used to represent Norton in the Cobell case before she fired them last fall. The division, however, has been assigned to the tribal cases U.S. District Judge Lamberth has agreed to hear.

Sampson is a former aide to conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Previously employed by the Salt Lake City firm of Parr, Waddoups, Brown, Gee & Loveless, he advises Bush on a number of matters, including political appointees and environmental-related litigation.

"All day he sits in the Oval Office and makes the tough decisions," Sampson told The Deseret News on July 17. "You know they're the tough ones or they wouldn't make it to the Oval Office."

A second White House lawyer also participated in the conference call but the person's identity has not be ascertained. Slonaker said a member of the Interior's legislative staff took part as well.

Since Congress is on a one-month recess, McCain's request for a hearing will be delayed. The House Resources Committee is considering taking action, said sources there.

McCain Letters on Slonaker Resignation:
McCain to Norton (8/2) | McCain to Inouye (8/2)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Trust Reform, NCAI -

Related Stories:
Editorial: What Norton doesn't want to hear (8/5)
Slonaker: Gale Norton 'has no clothes' (8/1)
Slonaker cites White House pressure (7/31)
'He did the best he could' (7/31)
Slonaker leaves Bush administration (7/30)