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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Contact: Doug Kendall, 202-296-6889

READ THE REPORT!


Spin is spin, and we'll get to that later, but the press secretary for Interior's Inspector General Earl Devaney is correct about one thing: the IG's report entitled Investigation of Settlement Agreement Between BLM and Harvey Frank Robbins "speaks for itself." (Washington Post, February 23, 2005). The IG's report paints an amazingly damning portrait of the functioning of Office of the Solicitor during William Myers' tenure. As discussed below, it also leaves a number of very important questions about Myers' involvement in this matter completely unanswered.

According to the IG's report, Robert Comer, a political appointee who served as one of six "Associate Solicitors" under Myers during Myers' tenure, spearheaded the Robbins Settlement. Hitting just the highlights, during the course of negotiating and implementing this agreement, Comer:

  • Ignored concerns repeatedly expressed by the Wyoming U.S. Attorney's office about the legality of the settlement and the impact the settlement would have "on the U.S. Attorney's Office's ability to represent BLM in either criminal or civil matters."
  • Ignored specific objection by the Wyoming BLM office that explained in detail how the agreement violated regulations and BLM policies implemented to comply with federal land management laws.
  • Told a staff attorney in the Solicitor's Office that he would "advise Secretary Norton or [BLM Director Kathleen] Clark" if he refused to "cooperate" in the drafting of the Robbins agreement. This line attorney responded by writing a "Memo to File" documenting the irregularities in settlement process.
  • Instructed the BLM not to enforce grazing law against Robbins while the settlement agreement was being negotiated.

The report concludes that Comer "negotiate[d] an agreement with Mr. Robbins and his attorney directly, with little or no input by senior BLM officials at headquarters and with total disregard for the concerns voiced by career field personnel. Later in the process, Mr. Comer would also unilaterally dismiss, and fail to communicate to decision-makers, the concerns raised by the U.S. Attorney's Office responsible for taking judicial enforcement against violators of BLM rangeland rules and regulation." Comer, according to the AG, "failed to act impartially and gave preferential treatment to Mr. Robbins in negotiating and crafting the settlement agreement." His conduct in the Robbins matter "cries out for administrative action."

While the IG's report does not implicate Myers in Comer's conduct, it does not absolve him of responsibility for what was going on under his watch, either. Most importantly, the IG ignores Mr. Myers' testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he "specifically authorized" Comer to negotiate the settlement of the Robbins matter and the IG's own evidence, developed in an earlier investigation into Myers' contacts with his former mining and grazing clients, that Myers was briefed by Comer on the Robbins settlement before the settlement was executed. There is simply nothing in the IG's report about Myers' pre-settlement involvement in the matter, even though there are facts in the record documenting Myers' direct involvement, at least in a supervisory capacity. It seems telling that the staff attorney threatened by Comer would feel compelled to express his concerns about Comer and the Robbins settlement in a "memo to file," rather than taking these concerns to Myers. At the very least Myers bears responsibility for giving Comer authority to settle the Robbins matter, and not ensuring that Comer followed the law and department procedures in the negotiating and implementing Robbins Settlement.

Which brings us to the spin. The IG's press secretary suggests that the report "clears" Myers because Comer misrepresented facts to Myers in a July 7, 2003 e-mail. First of all, this correspondence occurred 6 months after the Settlement was finalized. In no way does this absolve Myers of his responsibility for his actions in authorizing and overseeing the Settlement itself.

As importantly, Comer's message addresses one small aspect of the settlement: its failure to include provisions addressing a RICO suit Robbins brought against BLM. At this point, according to his Senate Testimony, Myers had reviewed the Robbins Settlement agreement. Was his only concern after reviewing this widely problematic document the fact that "press reports" indicated that Robbins has a RICO suit pending against BLM employees that was not dismissed as part of the settlement?

The Robbins IG report, in short, raises serious questions about Myers' tenure as Solicitor that have in no sense been answered. These questions include:

  • What role did Myers have in Comer's hiring, supervising, and retaining Comer?
  • What were Myers' instructions to Comer when he "specifically authorized" Comer to settle the Robbins matter?
  • On what basis or who's instructions did Myers authorize these negotiations?
  • What did Comer tell Myers about the settlement during their pre-settlement discussions of the matter?
  • Did Myers ever discuss the Robbins matter with DOI officials other than Comer?
  • Did he ever discuss the Robbins matter with anyone at the Department of Justice?
  • After he reviewed the Robbins Settlement Agreement, did he have any concerns about the terms of the agreement? If so, to whom did he express these concerns and what did he do to address them?

None of these questions are answered in the IG's report. What is certain is the Robbins settlement, and Myers' role in it, reinforces the case against Myers confirmation to the Ninth Circuit. The Robbins settlement is just one of many examples where Myers, and attorneys under Myers' supervision, reached unjustifiable results that benefit Myers' former grazing and mining clients through unfair (and in some cases illegal) processes. For a comprehensive report documenting the reasons why Myers has been opposed by an unprecedented number of environmental organizations and Indian tribes, click here. For an updated report, click here (PDF).

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