Diplomacy aside Griles fails to convince
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When J. Steven Griles took the stand earlier this year in defense of the Bush administration's handling of the Indian trust debacle, he seemed confident in his words.

After all, he was in charge of fixing the broken system, a task he tackled -- according to court documents -- almost as soon as he was confirmed as second-in-command to Secretary of Interior Gale Norton last July. Over the course of two days, he testified about plans to better serve tribes and Individual Indian Money (IIM) beneficiaries.

"There is no conspiracy in the Department of the Interior to not fulfill the desires of satisfying the IIM account holders," he said. "We want to solve that problem."

But he also urged U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth not to hold his boss and Indian affairs aide Neal McCaleb in contempt of court. "If contempt is issued, I think that is going to put a big stigma on us," he said on February 7.

A week later, during a testy appearance before Congress, he acted as if he made an impact. He told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that he spoke "at length" with Lamberth about the issue.

"It is my sincere hope and desire," Griles said on February 12, "that he will not find that unnecessary cause of action that he believes he needs to take."

Fast forward seven months, and in two scathing rulings, Griles' credibility as a court witness is ripped apart. Lamberth took the official to task for displaying "an alarming lack of candor [that] comes perilously close to perjury" by trying to smear a judicial investigator.

And in holding Norton and McCaleb in contempt, Lamberth rejected arguments made during the "at length" court exchange. "During this contempt trial, Deputy Secretary Griles was not quite as diplomatic" as he may have thought, the September 17 ruling stated.

The decision wasn't the first time Griles ran into trouble with the court, though. During the trial, he admitted he was responsible for asking to release a report containing private financial data about Indian account holders.

Lamberth rejected the request in a harshly worded order. "I tell the legal team what to do," Griles later said in another Congressional appearance. "To say I got a stern rebuke was an understatement."

Griles also was criticized for saying he was "tired" of waiting for court approval to restart computer systems that had been shut down to protect them from Internet hackers. "I mean, the gall of [Deputy] Secretary Griles," Lamberth said in court on February 20.

The handling of the entire mess left Lamberth with a few choice words in his most recent decision.

"Thus, if individuals at the Department of Interior, including Secretary Norton, feel that as a result of this court's ruling they are unable or unwilling to perform their duties to the best of their ability, then they should leave the department forthwith or at least be reassigned so that they do not work on matters relating to the IIM trust," he wrote.

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

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