Norton withdrawing accounting arguments
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In another reversal of the Clinton administration's policies on the trust fund, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton is dropping her department's attempts to limit an historical accounting for 300,000 American Indian beneficiaries.

Earlier this month, Norton's legal team this month asked a federal judge for permission to withdraw three motions affecting the scope of the accounting. According to the February 1 filing, there have been a number of "developments" since the Bush administration took over a year ago that require a second look.

Included is Norton's creation of the Office of Historical Trust Accounting (OHTA). Headed by Bert T. Edwards, himself a former Clinton administration appointee, the office plans to release a plan to conduct an accounting of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust later this summer.

Additionally, government attorneys say a federal appeals court decision upholding the beneficiaries' right to an historical accounting "undermines" the Clinton administration's arguments. So rather than have U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth deal yet another blow to the case, they want the motions thrown out for now.

The shift represents a view Norton advocated last week. While on the stand in her own contempt trial, she said the appeals court in February 2001 "clearly threw out" a limited historical accounting.

"I wanted to reject the idea that we only had to do things back to 1994," she said, referencing attempts to cut back the accounting.

Norton's move also marks the latest in a string of changes she has made in recent months. In October, she fired the Department of Justice attorneys that handled the case on behalf of former Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

Prior to that, she reversed her own affirmation of Babbitt's decision to conduct a statistical sampling analysis of the IIM trust. It was this action that Lamberth called "clearly contemptuous."

But while Norton's attempt to drop the accounting limitations might be viewed as positive, attorneys representing the Indian beneficiaries don't feel the same. They claim the entire affair was a "sham" in the first place and want Lamberth to impose the "strongest sanctions" on the government.

"It is apparent that defendants were, with each passing week, repeatedly hoping that such motions -- which have now been pending over 16 months -- would be granted by the court and that they could bury this fraud forever," the IIM attorneys wrote last Friday.

The plaintiffs aren't the only ones who want a decision made. In a report released earlier this month, court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III questioned the validity of the arguments and recommended Lamberth make a ruling.

Should Lamberth reject Norton's withdrawal request, her attorneys say they are prepared to defend the motions.

Lamberth resumes testimony in the contempt trial this morning. National Congress of American Indians President Tex Hall is being called as a rebuttal witness by the plaintiffs.

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

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