Attack on Indian trust fund monitor decried
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The Department of Interior is coming under fire for accusing a court investigator who has uncovered Indian trust fund mismanagement of bias.

Attorneys representing 300,000 American Indian beneficiaries rushed to defend court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III from what they called an attempt by the government's "henchmen" to silence a critic. "If you speak the truth about the Interior Secretary’s malfeasance, you will be targeted in retaliation," attorneys for the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust wrote in court papers filed last week.

Tribal leaders too have questioned the move to limit independent oversight of the department. National Congress of American Indians President Tex Hall last week said Kieffer's highly critical court reports and his presence at meetings of a joint federal-tribal task force aren't grounds for removal, as the Bush administration has claimed.

"We haven't seen him biased on any of the issues," Hall told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of Washington and a member of the task force, wasn't surprised by the request. He said he was tipped off prior to the June 14 motion.

"[Kieffer] is just an incredible study of the trust activities and what some of the problems are," said Allen. "I think he has a very good insight into it."

The remarks come in response to Secretary Gale Norton's refusal to allow investigation of stalled efforts to correct more than one hundred years of Indian trust mismanagement. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth appointed the former military intelligence specialist to a second one-year term in April, bowing to concerns raised by the Interior.

At the time, Kieffer was already on shaky ground for authoring reports that were used against Norton during her contempt trial. His subsequent probe into an internal high-level dispute spurred the department into action.

In addition to asking Lamberth to remove his official, the department is balking at paying court fees. Norton's defense team agreed to reimburse Kieffer at the rate of $250 an hour but now demand a more thorough accounting of his costs.

A House subcommittee last week, however, agreed to pay legal fees incurred by past and present Interior employees. Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles in March told lawmakers that nearly 50 officials, senior managers and government attorneys were being hurt by the trust fund lawsuit.

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

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