Justice plans action for destroyed trust records
Facebook Twitter Email

In the wake of criticism from a federal judge that the agency has done little to correct its misdeeds, the Department of Justice says attorneys involved in the destruction and subsequent cover-up of 162 boxes of Indian trust fund records will be disciplined.

The department has completed a 203-page report on the document destruction, which occurred in early 1999, said H. Marshall Jarrett, the head of the Office of Professional Responsibility. The office investigates allegations of misconduct on behalf of Justice attorneys.

Remedial action is being held up only because one of the attorneys involved is requesting a review of an internal investigation into the incident, said Jarrett. Once the process is complete, the agency will provide the report to a federal court handling the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit, he added.

Jarrett's disclosure was contained in a letter sent to US District Judge Royce Lamberth on Tuesday. That same day, Lamberth unsealed a Department of Treasury report detailing corrective action taken against four staff attorneys who failed to disclose that documents were being destroyed for five months.

In his ruling to unseal the report, which details only light punishment for the attorneys, Lamberth criticized the Departments of Interior and Justice for not taking action against their attorneys.

Lamberth wrote: "the corrective action taken by Treasury . . . stands in marked contrast to the dearth of corrective action taken by the Interior Department and the Justice Department."

"Neither of those agencies has provided any report whatsoever – under seal or otherwise – demonstrating that they have held any attorney accountable in any way whatsoever for any misconduct in this litigation," he added.

According to Jarrett, the department always investigates the actions of attorneys should a federal court find that misconduct has occurred. Jarrett said the probe began following Lamberth's February 1999 contempt-of-court ordered against former officials of the Clinton administration who failed to produce documents in the Cobell lawsuit.

However, it wasn't until December 1999 that a court investigator detailed the destruction of the trust records, which took place at a Treasury facility in Maryland. Special Master Alan Balaran criticized the government for waiting five months to disclose the incident.

But he recommended Lamberth hold off on potential punishment for the government until the departments involved conducted their own investigations. The Treasury finished its probe in October 2000 but didn't want the report made public -- a request Lamberth rejected this week.

Of the six attorneys, only four are still employed at the Treasury Department. For their involvement in the "deeply embarrassing incident," the most severe actions doled out were counseling and management training sessions.

Whether the Justice attorneys will face harsher actions remains to be seen. Lamberth has already questioned whether the Treasury "went far enough in its disciplinary proceedings."

Jarrett provided no time-table on when the report would be presented to the court but is offering Lamberth a chance to preview it.

Relevant Links:
Office of Professional Responsibility, DOJ -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

Related Stories:
Treasury trust fund report unsealed (8/15)
Bush administration won't challenge trust fund ruling (5/31)
Fed instructed to preserve documents (4/20)
Court investigator faults Federal Reserve (4/19)
More trust documents reported destroyed (3/16)
Landmark trust fund decision upheld (2/26)
Records a continued source of problems in lawsuit (01/18)