Babbitt's Department of Ulterior

When wealthy casino tribes sought to derail a would-be competitor, campaign donations were the currency of the day

"Q: 'Do you have any reason to think as you look at paragraphs 3 and 4 that Mr. Eckstein's description of the meeting is erroneous in some way?'"

"A: 'Well, again, I am not trying to be difficult, but I don't have a clear recollection of the meeting, so I can't really say whether he is accurately reflecting it or not.'"

"Q: 'Do you have any reason to think that a meeting didn't occur on that day?'"

"A: 'No. I have no way of confirming or denying that this meeting occurred. I simply don't remember . . .'"

Elsewhere in the same deposition:
"Q: 'So, you don't remember any meetings or phone conversations you might have had with Mr. O'Connor about the matter?'"

"A: 'I don't recall having a conversation with him about this matter. No. I have not heard any information that would lead me to believe that I did have such a conversation with him.'"

"Q: 'Back in time when the decision was being made, by that I mean before July 14 of 1995, did you ever have a conversation or communication with Mr. Collier about Mr. O'Connor's representation in the Hudson Casino matter?'"

"A: "'I don't think so, but I think at some point there was something that suggested that Mr. Collier had asked me to call him. I don't know that that is correct or not. That is my recollection. But I don't recall ever calling him or talking to him or knowing about it. It wasn't part of my radar screen as I was processing through this application.'"

In fact, the first meeting O'Connor had with an Interior official was with Duffy. Elsewhere in the deposition Duffy reminded the Justice Department's investigators that his was not the authoritative word on the Hudson casino.

"Q: '. . . would it seem likely to you that you and Mr. Skibine (Interior official) by this time had concluded that the application was going to be denied?'"

"A: '. . . I just want to caution that when we talk about the application being denied or approved, the game isn't over until the fat lady sings, or in this case until Michael Anderson (deputy assistant secretary for Indian affairs) signs the document. . . . I think I had certainly come to the position where I was recommending denial . . . but the Department's decision is not being made by me or by Mr. Skibine. It is not being made until Mr. Anderson signs his name to it.'"

Heather Sibbison, special assistant to Babbitt, graduate of Columbia law, worked directly with Duffy. When the White House staff of Harold Ickes contacted Interior--at least three instances of such contact are recorded and more are suspected--Sibbison handled the replies. Closely involved in the Hudson casino application, she and Duffy differed over Anderson's role.

"Q: 'Of the Secretary's inner circle, Mr. Duffy was the person who was responsible for keeping an eye on Indian gaming issues?'"

"A: 'Yes.'"
"Q: 'Mr. Anderson doesn't stick out as someone who was very involved in the process. Is that fair to say?'"

"A: 'Yes.'"
Anderson's deposition is an anomaly. Lawyerly wiggle phrases like, "To the best of my recollection . . ." simply do not appear in his testimony. Asked if he was ever contacted by anyone at the White House, the DNC, the Clinton-Gore campaign or Patrick O'Connor, Anderson answered no to each question. Clearly, unequivocally and without qualification. He was not offered a job with Steptoe and Johnson and remains at Interior.

Someone who did find employment with Babbitt's old firm was his chief of staff, Tom Collier, whose deposition contains the following exchange.

"Q: 'Other than talking to (O'Connor), what other involvement in the Hudson matter did you have in 1995?'"

"A: 'I don't think any. I don't recall any. My days were--I never had an experience in my professional career like my days were in that job. I would have 15 meetings a day and 40 or 50 phone calls a day on a variety of subjects, sometimes doing one while I was doing the other.

'And so the recollection that I have of meetings or phone calls really, unfortunately, were only those that were of some significance, like where I made a decision, where I did something.

'But to the best of my recollection--I just don't have any recollection . . .'"

Mr. Collier is too modest. It was Mr. Collier who, upon talking with O'Connor, reopened the Hudson casino case. The customary period for comment had closed, with the BIA recommending that the casino be approved.

Collier's decision marked the first time the Interior Department ever took such action.

"Q: 'Since you returned to private practice, have you represented in any capacity any of the tribes that were opposed to the Hudson Casino application?'"

"A: 'Yes, I have.'"
"Q: 'Which tribe or tribes?'"
"'A: 'The Shakopees (O'Connor's clients).'"

"Q: 'Have you ever solicited political contributions of any kind from any members of any tribes that were opposed to the Hudson Casino matter?'"

"A: 'Solicited political contributions? The Shakopees asked my advice on how best to make a significant contribution to the President's re-election campaign, and I gave them that advice. I did not solicit a contribution from them on behalf of the President's re-election campaign.'"

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