FROM THE ARCHIVE

Attack on trust fund investigator renewed

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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2002

Attorneys for Secretary of Interior Gale Norton on Tuesday demanded records of an inter-tribal trust fund organization in an apparent attempt to bolster their ongoing challenge to a federal court investigator.

A civil subpoena was issued for the Inter-Tribal Monitoring Association (ITMA), which represents more than 50 tribes with significant trust assets. The non-profit organization, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, receives federal funds.

ITMA, according to the notice, is "commanded" to produce all "videos, recordings, transcripts, prepared statements and other documents that contain, reflect or relate to any speeches, comments or remarks by Joseph S. Kieffer III at any meeting, conference or other event from April 2001 to the present."

Kieffer is an investigator in the Cobell lawsuit affecting 500,000 individual Indians -- tribal trust funds are not at issue. He was appointed to watch over the Department of Interior in April 2001 in the wake of an internal memo that warned that efforts to fix the broken trust system were "imploding."

At the time, Norton hailed Kieffer's presence. But since then, she has unsuccessfully sought his disqualification after he authored several scathing reports that helped cement her recent contempt citation.

More recently, she has refused to compensate Kieffer for work she agreed he would perform. In October, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth rejected the campaign against court oversight in a harshly worded order.

"This court can only respond that the devil himself may quote scripture to his purpose," Lamberth wrote.

Despite the rebuke, the Bush administration has continued to challenge Kieffer, who is currently overseeing depositions of top officials, including Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles, his top aide Jim Cason and Indian Trust Transition Director Ross Swimmer. Government attorneys have taken issue with the manner in which he has allowed questioning to take place.

Bush officials also question Kieffer's participation in tribally-led trust reform activities. He has attended several meetings of the now-defunct task force on trust reform and at least two ITMA functions. Department officials co-chaired the task force and made presentations of their own at the ITMA events.

Yet on Monday, Norton instructed Interior employees not to share documents with Kieffer. She issued a department-wide memo regarding his more powerful role as the special master-monitor.

"You may not turn over to the Special Master-Monitor any Departmental documents," the memo stated. "Departmental documents are the property of the Government. If the Special Master-Monitor requests documents, please refer the request to the Solicitor's Office for consideration."

Norton further suggested that employees not speak with Kieffer unless government attorneys are present. She cited a Department of Justice letter that discourages "ex parte" contacts.

Kieffer, a former military intelligence specialist, has earned praised from tribal leaders for helping shed light on failed reform efforts. "[Kieffer] is just an incredible study of the trust activities and what some of the problems are," said Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of Washington. "I think he has a very good insight into it."

At the task force meetings, Kieffer has made some comments but none to warrant alarm, tribal leaders have repeatedly said. On at least least one occasion, he praised Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb.

A request for comment was placed after hours yesterday to ITMA chairman Charles Jackson. An ITMA official told Indianz.Com the call will be returned today.

Relevant Documents:
ITMA Subpoena (November 19, 2002) | Norton Memo on Special Master-Monitor (November 18, 2002)

Relevant Links:
Inter-Tribal Monitoring Association - http://www.itmatrustfunds.org/index.cfm

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