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Casino Jack Screws the Indians — Yet Again

graphic: graham G

I’ve said it before and will no doubt say it again, the best writing in the blogosphere on Jack Abramoff is being done by Mary Beth Williams of Wampum. She has another amazing story up (this time at Kos) about how Casino Jack ran a slush fund to pay off Republicans who provided cover for Gayle Norton and her attempts to keep the government from settling a case in which the Indian lands had been ripped off to the tune of $150 billion by oil, gas, mining and forestry industries:

Colorado native Norton is of the James Watt school of pillage the environment (she entered the Reagan Administration to work for him) and her entire career has been to forward the interests of oil and gas, mining and forestry industries. And in the West, that means easy access to cheap federal land leases, hundreds of millions of acres of land rich with natural resources.

A large chunk of those federal lands are Indian Trust Fund lands, taken into trust in the late 1800s via the Dawes Act, and leased out to industries, ranchers and farmers at cut-rate prices. The money was then to be managed by Interior and paid out to native landowners. Of course, that didn’t happen – hence Cobell v. Norton.

The courts have ordered a full accounting of the Trust. Problem is, many of the documents were destroyed, including a slew of them under Norton. So the plaintiffs decided a few years back that the only way to get a real accounting is to audit the industries’ books. That’s what makes everyone so nervous, as plaintiff experts, having done some sampling, estimate we’re talking over $150 billion in underpayments and fraud, along with interest, of course. Yes, $150 BILLION. And the pressure would be huge for Congress to force a repayment by the guilty. If not, then it comes out of the taxpayers’ pockets, as the courts have already ordered the accounts be properly audited and brought up to date. Hence, the concern of the oil/gas, mining, ranching, forestry and agriculture interests which use/abuse the land lease process.

So Norton did what she could to subvert the case, but as the heat was turned up, and the Administration losing appeal after appeal, she started pushing for Congressional Republicans to take the case and force a settlement. A settlement for a fraction of the potential amount, but one which would prevent an audit of industry accounts. Who is the chief supporter of a Congressional settlement? None other than the puppet of the oil, gas and mining industry, Richard Pombo. Twice Pombo has written legislation ordering a settlement (both times with no settlement figures, of course), but Delay intervened. Not because he likes Indians, but because he figures that it’s safer to stall than to provide even the smallest chance the industry books will be audited. (Delay and most oilmen Congressmen voted against the original Indian Trust Accountability Act back in 1994 – only 36 Reps did.) So from 2002 to 2005, Delay ordered, despite a court order, that no accounting of the trust fund occur (or at least there’d be no funding for it, which, of course, means it doesn’t happen.)

This is where Abramoff comes in. He was the slush fund operator. Indians thought they were paying Pombo and others on House Resources and Senate Indian Affairs, et al., for help with gaming issues, and Abramoff was in fact padding coffers necessary to protect the industry from auditing.

Think this is all too far-fetched? Just last week, the NYTimes posted an article on three months’ of research into federal land leases (including Indian trust lands) and found rampant fraud and underpayment. In addition, numerous whistleblowers were fired, including Norton and Griles trustee for the BIA, who refused to testify before Congress that the Trust was fine. Accountants and fund managers were fired for doing a good job and finding fraud.

McCain and Pombo are once again pushing for a settlement, and in the increasingly hostile environment for Indians due to success in portraying Abramoff’s tribal clients as villains, not victims, they’ll most likely get it, at rock-bottom prices. And the industry books will remain safely closed.

And yet the Washington Post spends no small amount of effort trying to drag Democrats into the scandal, while this goes unreported. Norton has fired whistleblowers, and thanks to the efforts of the WaPo and others to smear the Indians:

McCain and Pombo are once again pushing for a settlement, and in the increasingly hostile environment for Indians due to success in portraying Abramoff’s tribal clients as villains, not victims, they’ll most likely get it, at rock-bottom prices. And the industry books will remain safely closed.

I have to say that when the whole Deborah Howell mess went down, the "Abramoff gave money to Democrats too" thing was actually the lesser target of my rage. The major portion was reserved for the shoddy, condescending, dismissive and downright racist way with which Steno Sue and others at the WaPo continue to characterize the Indian tribes and their involvement in this mess, and the result is stuff like this.

Mary Beth has compiled links to her research here.

(graphic by Graham G.)

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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