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Rancher alleges former solicitor played role in grazing deal

April 13, 2005
Dan Berman and Alex Kaplun, Greenwire reporters

A former Interior Department solicitor nominated for a federal judgeship may have seen a controversial grazing settlement while it was being negotiated, according to the Wyoming rancher at the center of the controversy.

The rancher's allegations about the role played by William Myers, President Bush's nominee to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, runs counter to conclusions reached by the Interior Department's inspector general and Myers' testimony last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The allegations were raised in a 12-page memorandum <> written by an attorney for Wyoming rancher Frank Robbins. The memo includes references to Myers receiving information about the controversial deal, as well as a fax cover sheet showing Myers was sent a copy of the negotiated agreement several weeks before it was approved.

At issue is whether Myers had a role in a 2002 Interior agreement absolving Robbins from penalties associated with 16 violations of grazing laws and limiting future enforcement for similar violations. The deal -- which was widely criticized by environmental groups who charged it was put in place because of Robbins' political connections -- was later voided by Interior.

The allegations could provide further ammunition to Senate Democrats and environmentalists who want to block Myers' nomination for the second consecutive year. Myers' nomination also could be the first test for the "nuclear option," if Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) attempts to implement a rule change to end filibusters to block judicial nominees.

At least one member of the Judiciary Committee is calling for an investigation of Myers' role in the grazing deal. "The allegations raised by Mr. Robbins' attorney directly contradict Mr. Myers' written response to a question I submitted," Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said yesterday. "The Judiciary Committee should investigate these allegations immediately."

Myers told the committee last month he had no prior knowledge of the controversial settlement and had not read the document before it was signed. "I was not involved in the negotiations or discussion of that settlement, other than to tell the subordinate attorney that he had authority to settle that case," Myers said.

In February, Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney said the department's attorneys and other senior officials circumvented normal procedures by withholding information from their superiors. But Devaney said Myers was not involved.

"To the contrary, a fair reading of the report," Devaney said, "would suggest that Myers was, in fact, victimized when he was given a distorted explanation by one of his senior associate solicitors."

But the memorandum from Robbins' Kansas-based attorney, Marc Stimpert, takes aim at Devaney's investigation and conclusions.

"Devaney's report is extremely biased, and intentionally or negligently fails to report the relevant facts," the memo says. "Devaney either intentionally or negligently failed to investigate facts contrary to the conclusions articulated in his report, or knowingly failed to include such facts in order to reach his incorrect conclusions. Either way, his report should be disregarded as blatantly biased and false, and his conduct in this matter should be investigated."

Stimpert said the memo "was sent out to some folks with the intent of telling the truth and so anyone who wanted to know the truth could see it." Stimpert said his client supported the distribution of the document.

The memo alleges "all relevant parties" in the Interior and Justice departments were kept informed about all aspects of the negotiations and that Devaney failed to report wrongdoing by the Worland, Wyo., Bureau of Land Management office.

Stimpert's law firm released a cover sheet of a fax sent to Myers and other officials on Nov. 13, 2002 -- several weeks before the agreement was signed -- asking if "anyone [has] any other changes to the Robbins' settlement agreement."

"Thus, all of these parties had full knowledge of the Settlement Agreement an all of its terms," the memo says.

Officials from groups opposing Myers' court nomination say the new information raises serious questions about his actions at Interior before leaving the solicitor's office in October 2003.

"One of the parties intimately involved in the Robbins settlement has contradicted the core of Mr. Myers' defense that he was out of the settlement negotiations loop," said Doug Kendall, executive director of the Community Rights Counsel. "All of that raises questions about whether he was in the Robbins settlement and how much he knows about the Robbins settlement before it was entered."

Click here <> to download the memo.

Click here <> to download the February IG report. (CRC NOTE: Reader must have subscription service to view the EENews PDF).

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