The Interior Department's inspector general has criticized
the actions of a judicial nominee who is seen by some Republicans
as the best hope of breaking Senate Democrats' long-standing
resistance to some of President Bush's choices for federal
The judicial nominee, former Interior Department solicitor
William G. Myers III, bypassed normal procedures in dealing
with a Wyoming rancher who repeatedly violated federal grazing
laws, according to a letter from the inspector general.
Opponents of Myers's nomination -- one of several filibustered
by Democrats last year -- say the complaint adds new arguments
against the appointee. Yesterday, they urged senators to look
into the complaint during a Judiciary Committee hearing to
be held in about two weeks.
Myers is an Idaho-based lawyer whom Bush has tapped for the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Last July, Senate
Republicans did not get the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster
led by Democrats, who criticized Myers's environmental record.
Myers is among the 12 candidates for federal appeals court
seats resubmitted to the Senate by Bush this week. Key Republicans
have signaled that they want Myers to be the first of the
group sent back to the Senate floor, hoping Democrats would
find him more acceptable than others. Yesterday's disclosure
of the inspector general's letter could complicate that strategy.
In 2002, Myers was the solicitor for the Interior Department
when it was embroiled in a dispute over grazing rights in
Wyoming with rancher Frank Robbins.
Last week, Interior's inspector general, Earl E. Devaney,
criticized the solicitor's role in seeking an agreement with
Robbins, saying "normal processes were circumvented"
and the "concerns articulated by the Department of Justice
and the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] field office were
ignored by the SOL [Office of the Solicitor]."
In a letter to the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility,
Devaney did not mention Myers by name, but he repeatedly criticized
the solicitor's office under his leadership. "We found
. . . an inappropriate level of programmatic involvement by
the SOL, and a profound lack of transparency in the overall
negotiation and agreement process," Devaney wrote.
The environmental group Community Rights Counsel publicly
released Devaney's letter yesterday, saying in a statement:
"After a two-year investigation into an outrageous settlement
that gave a politically connected Wyoming rancher named Frank
Robbins virtually carte blanche authority to violate federal
grazing laws," Devaney "placed blame squarely upon
the Office of Solicitor, headed by Solicitor William Myers."
Doug Kendall, the group's executive director, called on the
Judiciary Committee to fully explore the matter.
Myers, a Virginia native who received a bachelor's degree
from William & Mary in 1977, did not respond to a phone
call and an e-mail message seeking a comment yesterday.
In a Feb. 5, 2004, Judiciary Committee hearing into his first
nomination, Myers distanced himself from the Robbins dispute.
"I was not involved in the negotiations or discussions
of that settlement other than to tell a subordinate attorney
that he had authority to try to settle that case," he
testified. He added that he was not aware of the settlement's
Community Rights Counsel, however, cited a November 2003 letter
by Devaney that it said "confirms that Myers was personally
briefed on the status of the Robbins settlement on several
A June 2003 article in the Billings Gazette in Montana described
Robbins as a "rancher with a history of violations and
clashes with the Bureau of Land Management." Robbins's
dispute with the BLM, it said, "has become a saga of
escalating frustration on both sides, complaints and countercomplaints,
lawsuits, appeals and now a unique settlement agreement,"
reached during Myers's time as solicitor. "The deal is
highly unusual within the BLM and appears to depart from long-running
requirements spelled out in federal law about who can receive
Early last year, the Bureau of Land Management canceled the
agreement after Robbins was cited for willful trespass of
Myers spent much of his career as a lobbyist for mining and
grazing interests. The liberal group People for the American
Way, which opposes Myers and several other Bush judicial nominees,
said that, as Interior's solicitor, Myers "continued
to serve the corporate interests for which he had lobbied,
working zealously to overturn decisions and erase regulations
which protected our public lands from corporate interests."
Republicans have defended Myers's record and have accused
Senate Democrats of being obstructionists. Last year's filibuster
of Myers, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said at the time, "is
nothing more than a reflection of special-interest-group disdain
for policies favored by farmers, ranchers, miners, the Bush
Interior Department or anyone else who advocates balanced
uses of western lands."
Research editor Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.