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Norton concludes testimony in contempt trial

Last Updated: 4:45 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton took the stand today in her own contempt trial, answering questions posed by attorneys representing 300,000 American Indian beneficiaries and a federal judge.

Her defense attorneys declined to ask questions.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs had three hours with which to examine Norton, who faces five contempt charges for her handling of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust. The contempt trial began December 10 and is nearing its end.

Much of the testimony today focused on an Ernst & Young report which was the subject of much controversy last week when U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said Norton breached her trust responsibilities by seeking to make public private financial data of Indian account holders. Norton said she has only seen redacted portions of the report but believed there might be some way to release it to Congress.

Another part of the testimony addressed whether Norton believed she was fulfilling her duties as a trustee. "We have a system that is still not working to our satisfaction," she said.

Norton also touched upon her Internet-related shutdown and said 40 percent of her department is now online. But as she told Congress last week, she said she did not recall when she first became aware of security problems.

Regarding the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM), Norton said she was continuing to consult with tribes about the reorganization. Although she acknowledged she did not have a plan, she was adamant that she move forward as quickly as possible.

At the end of her time on the stand, Lamberth asked a series of direct questions to Norton, including ones on the Ernst & Young report. Norton said she didn't know Special Trustee Tom Slonaker objected to the release of the report until earlier this month.

Lamberth also asked whether she agreed her 7th quarterly report on trust reform to which Slonaker and other top managers objected was "inaccurate" and "incomplete." She said: "I believe it was an insufficient picture and that it was not a particularly good document."

Norton's testimony concluded around 3 p.m.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Griles gets grilled by Congress (2/13)
Interior changes mind on payments (2/13)

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

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