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Contempt trial delves into reports

Proceedings for Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's contempt trial continued in federal court today, focusing again on the reports of court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III.

As promised, Dennis Gingold, an attorney representing 300,000 beneficiaries to the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust, began poring over the first report in great detail with his witness, Principal Deputy Special Trustee Tommy Thompson. A career bureaucrat, Thompson gave his testimony on the report, which covers the government's failure to conduct an historical accounting of the IIM trust.

Against the wishes of account holders, Thompson testified that the Clinton administration approved a statistical sampling of their funds without doing an analysis of alternative methods. He said he was surprised that his direct superior, Special Trustee Tom Slonaker, agreed in August 2000 to take on the project.

Even then, Thompson testified, former Secretary Bruce Babbitt didn't finalize the decision until December 21, 2000, just weeks before the end of the Clinton administration.

Subsequently, Thompson testified that Secretary Gale Norton embraced the sampling even though he personally thought it was not a "legitimate effort" to comply with a 1994 federal law and U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth's December 1999 ruling. Yet Thompson said he couldn't recall if he ever informed Norton of his objections.

Thompson also gave testimony in support of Kieffer's finding that a Federal Register and formal consultation process initiated in April 2000 was largely a "stall" tactic. He said that government attorneys believed they could challenge Lamberth's ruling and win on appeal.

Thompson, however, was unable to identify which member of the Office of the Solicitor may have suggested the process was the "price of the appeal." He said it could have been Edith Blackwell or Ed Cohen.

On the issue of court-mandated status updates the Interior is charged to provide, Thompson said they do not represent the true status of trust reform in that they only deal with four breach of trust projects and more than a dozen management, accounting and technology projects. Thompson testified that he believed the American Indian Trust Reform Act of 1994 included duties that were glossed over or not included in the updates.

Thompson was on the stand the entire day. He is set to take the stand again tomorrow.

Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles was in attendance. Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb had meetings, said an aide.

Near the end of today's trial, Mark Nagle, chief of the U.S. Attorneys office in Washington, D.C., said he finally figured out the plaintiffs' strategy. He offered to try and whittle down an large set of objections Norton raised to Kieffer's reports.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Contested reports focus of contempt trial (12/11)
The Trial: Witnesses to Contempt (12/11)
Coverage of Contempt Trial, Day 1 (12/11)
Griles in charge of IT reform (12/11)
Editorial: Take criminal steps on trust fund (12/11)
NPR covers BIA overhaul, trust fund (12/11)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Office of the Special Trustee -
Trust Management Improvement Project -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

Related Stories:
Norton contempt trial opens (12/10)
Norton attacks court monitor (12/10)
Norton set for contempt trial (12/10)
Indian panel urging BITAM slow down (12/10)
Editorial: Appoint IIM receiver (12/10)
Floods more important than Indians (12/10)