Interior slams report

The Interior Department has asked a federal judge to reject a court monitor's disparaging 86-page report examining the American Indian trust fund controversy.

"The Interior defendants strongly object to the...report in its entirety and deny all of its substantive allegations," Interior officials wrote in a May 16 response to the document. "The report is, in all respects, improper."

In his seventh report to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, Court Monitor Joseph Kieffer III wrote that Interior Secretary Gale Norton hasn't given Thomas Slonaker, special trustee for American Indians, the support he needs to fulfill his oversight duties, as mandated by a 1994 law.

The focus of the report isn't "the progress of trust reform, but unsubstantiated theories and opinions of the court monitor regarding the secretary's management and supervision of officials appointed by the president to assist her in fulfilling her duties," the Interior response said.

In a May 7 letter, Justice Department attorney Sandra Spooner asked Kieffer to edit his findings, but he declined. "The seventh report will stand as it was written," he said in a May 13 letter, adding that Norton's attorneys could warrant censure for their conduct. The court must "correct this historical breach of trust," Kieffer concluded in his report.

Interior has held American Indian-owned lands in trust for more than 100 years, leasing the properties and processing revenue earned from farming and drilling. A group of beneficiaries filed a class-action lawsuit in 1996, claiming that poor bookkeeping has resulted in as much as $10 billion in lost or missing funds.

The plaintiffs have endorsed Kieffer's report.

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