FROM THE ARCHIVE
Norton withdrawing accounting arguments
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WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2002

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 - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Trust Reform, NCAI - http://130.94.214.68/main/pages/
issues/other_issues/trust_reform.asp

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Norton tries to convince judge on trust reform (2/14)
Norton says plaintiffs' accounting complete (2/14)
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Norton concludes testimony (2/13)
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Norton agrees to testify (2/12)
Norton set for trial testimony (2/12)
Trust fund mess blamed on Babbitt (2/11)
Norton ordered to testify (2/8)
Trust system takes center stage in contempt (2/1)
Federal judge resuming Norton contempt trial (1/31)
Norton effort 'too little, too late' for judge (1/16)
Interior official denies trust fund 'conspiracy' (1/15)
Witness testifies against software corruption (1/15)
Dom Nessi expected as Norton witness (1/14)
Norton launches contempt defense (1/11)
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Top trust official lacks 'confidence' in reform (1/9)
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Trial resumes with trust testimony (1/7)
Contempt trial resumes in federal court (1/4)
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Judge questions role in trust fund 'circus' (12/20)
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TAAMS: The Titanic Failure (12/20)
Judge questions role in trust fund 'circus' (12/20)
TAAMS failure traced to promoted manager (12/20)
Ruling on court monitor put off (12/20)
Norton ordered to submit trust fund report (12/18)
Judge rebuffs Norton challenge (12/17)
Week two of trial continues today (12/17)
History of neglect drives trust case (12/17)
Judge eager for Norton testimony (12/13)
Editorial: Bad faith, wasted dollars (12/13)
Confusion, conflict detailed at Interior (12/12)
Exclusive: Trust reform assessment (12/12)
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EDS trust reform report online (12/12)
Coverage of Contempt Trial, Day 2 (12/12)
Contempt trial continues (12/11)
Contested reports focus of contempt trial (12/11)
The Trial: Witnesses to Contempt (12/11)
Coverage of Contempt Trial, Day 1 (12/11)
Norton contempt trial opens (12/10)
Norton attacks court monitor (12/10)
Norton set for contempt trial (12/10)

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