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January 28, 2006

Gale Norton, Jack Abramoff and the Choctaws

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You won't be seeing pictures of President Bush and Jack Abramoff any time soon but while you wait for those to surface, the Interior Department has a little something to whet your appetite.

It's a photo of Secretary Gale Norton with Mississippi Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin and disgraced lobbyist/confessed felon Jack Abramoff! Also in the photo, next to Chief Martin, is C. Bryant Rogers, the tribe's outside counsel. [And some unidentified man. Anyone know who that is?]

According to an Interior spokesperson, Norton didn't talk to Abramoff or Martin. "The men waited while Norton finished a meeting, then posed with her for an official department photo in front of the large fireplace in her office and left," the Associated Press, reported. [But did she talk to Rogers or that unidentified man?]

The photo was taken on February 5, 2002, according to DOI. For history buffs that was a Tuesday. The weekend before, Norton went on a retreat in West Virginia with the tribal leaders trust reform task force. The meeting went well, according to tribal leaders we spoke to at the time. She closed the weekend by gathering the group together and asking tribes what she should tell the House Resources Committee on February 6, 2002, the day of a big trust reform hearing.

When that day rolled around, though, Norton had something else to say. She blamed everyone -- including tribes -- for failures in trust reform. She criticized their alternative proposals to BITAM and said Ross Swimmer was the greatest man to walk the earth.

"She's on Mars," former NCAI president Tex Hall told us during a break in the hearing at the time."The Secretary is on another planet."

But now you know the real story. Norton wasn't an another planet. She had just been to Choctaw. That will make just about anyone crazy.



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