Babbitt's Department of Ulterior

Watching the Cash
Astroturf Opposition
Raise Your Right Hand
The Decision
Excerpts from C-SPAN
Raise Your Right Hand
The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is the standard attorneys demand of us in trial. But lawyers in this case--and all of the key players are lawyers--appear to struggle heroically with veracity once they are under oath.

Even worse, their memory appears ruined by government service.

In a New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story written by Michael Lewis, White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes cautioned that government investigators “are no longer trying to get at the truth. They are just trying to get you on perjury.”

This comment, which appeared the same month that Senate staffers interrogated Interior officials about the Hudson deal, might explain a new form of testimony: “To the best of my memory . . . I can’t recall . . . my recollection is . . .”

If documents or eyewitnesses surface later that contradict your sworn statement, you simply say, “Ah, yes, now I remember. But my best recollection, when you first inquired, was that I had no memory.”

If an interrogator, or a citizen, has the impudence to look askance at your apparent dementia, you have only to remind him that he could not possibly grasp how important you once were, how busy your days . . .

The consequence of this willful forgetfulness is the same as shredding evidence. And no question is ever clearly resolved.

John Duffy, Babbitt’s onetime counselor on gaming issues, was not only part of the secretary’s inner circle, but by all accounts, except his own, he ran point on the Hudson casino issue.

You need a Pentium chip to compute the number of times he told Justice Department investigators that he did not recall what he did at the Department of the Interior. Despite Duffy’s appearing as numb as a cod and only half as articulate, Babbitt’s old firm, Steptoe and Johnson, hired him.

From Duffy’s deposition:

“Q: ‘Paragraphs 3 and 4 of the affidavit purport to describe a meeting that Mr. Eckstein had with you and others on May 17, 1995. You said earlier that you didn’t recall a meeting on that date. Does looking at this help your recollection in that regard?’”

“A: ‘It does, but only slightly. . . . So, I mean, I have only a fractured and incomplete recollection. I really just don’t have a clear recollection of a meeting in which these various parties were in attendance.’”

“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.’”

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As originally published in Phoenix New Times