Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement | National | Politics

Keith Harper faces hostile Sen. McCain at nomination hearing

An old controversy surfaced on Tuesday as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took up the nomination of Keith Harper, a member of the Cherokee Nation, to serve in an ambassador-rank post.

Harper is well known for his work on the Cobell trust fund lawsuit. But it was the actions of one his fellow attorneys that drew fire from Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), whose attempt to settle the case during the Bush administration failed.

Harper did not write or disseminate a January 20, 2012, Ask Elouise letter that included the phone numbers of four Indian beneficiaries who challenged the settlement that was reached by the Obama administration. His firm also did not play a role in publishing the letter online -- it was the work of former co-counsel Dennis Gingold, a solo practitioner.

Nevertheless, McCain blamed Harper for harassing the beneficiaries, some of whom received angry phone calls about the appeals, which held up distribution of the $3.4 billion settlement for several months. The federal courts later dismissed the appeals.

"I think these four peoples' human rights were abused," McCain said at the hearing, which was held to consider Harper's nomination as the United States Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Harper said the letter was removed from IndianTrust.Com and a listing for the letter does not currently appear on the site. However, a spokesperson for McCain told Indian Country Today that the letter was still accessible as of yesterday afternoon.

Indianz.Com usually published the Ask Elouise letters after receiving them, via e-mail, from the Cobell team's media representative. In this situation, the letter was received late Friday on January 20, 2012, so publication was delayed to the following Monday.

But Gingold, for his part, informed Indianz.Com that the letter was problematic early Monday morning and the letter was removed. It appeared on the site for less than 8 hours on January 23, 2012 -- from approximately 1am to 9am Eastern time.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California), the chairwoman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged Harper to respond to questions about the letter. But she noted that he played no part in its drafting or dissemination.

If confirmed by the Senate, Harper would be the first Native American to serve as the U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council. He also would be the first member of a federally-recognized tribe to serve in an ambassador-rank post.

The exchange with McCain starts at about 9:05 in the Q&A file. Audio can be found on the Indianz.Com SoundCloud:

Get the Story:
McCain Opposes Harper Nomination to UN Council, Citing Indian Concerns (Indian Country Today 9/24)

Committee Notice:
Nomination (September 24, 2013)

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NCAI hails nomination of Keith Harper to UN ambassador job (6/17)
Leader of Cherokee Nation hails nomination of Keith Harper (6/13)
Keith Harper, Cherokee, nominated for ambassador level job (6/10)

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