Washington, DC — In a curious report that raises more questions than it answers, the Interior Office of Inspector General last night released a report blasting an improper settlement reached with a politically connected Wyoming rancher. In a press statement sent only to selected reporters, but not posted on its web site, the Office of Inspector General contends that it has cleared William Myers, the former Solicitor for the Department of Interior, who has been re-nominated by President Bush to serve on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, of any wrongdoing. That conclusion is strongly disputed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) whose complaint prompted the OIG report.
The report blames a deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management and an associate Solicitor, hand-picked by Myers for reaching and enforcing a deal of questionable legality that virtually immunized the rancher from penalties for grazing violations and left BLM’s own employees in legal jeopardy.
“Under Earl Devaney, the Office of Inspector General has become the Office of Deflector General; its reports target obscure middle managers while shielding the higher-ups who gave the orders,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that OIG admitted that it “could not determine what motivated senior BLM officials to propose and advance the idea of a settlement.” “According to Inspector General Devaney, this sleazy deal was the Immaculate Conception, because no living person claimed parenthood.”
In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, as part of his earlier unsuccessful attempt at confirmation to the 9th Circuit, Myers said he told “a subordinate attorney that he had authority to settle the case” but did not review the agreement before it was signed. Myers also testified “after the settlement was signed, press reports came out with statements that it was perhaps illegal…I asked for a copy of the agreement.” But after an internal review determined there were problems with the agreement, Myers did nothing. He did not move to revoke the agreement or even reprimand his subordinate.
“The best that can be said about William Myers’ role in this matter is that he was inattentive and indifferent,” added Ruch. “Given Myers’ role as a former lobbyist for the public lands livestock industry, he had a duty to make sure this deal passed the smell test – a duty that he admittedly shirked.”
One of the most curious aspects of the case is that Interior conferred a slew of concessions on a rancher who was simultaneously suing the BLM and its employees for racketeering, under the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO), in connection with the same transactions that were the subject of the settlement. The OIG claimed Myers’ subordinate misled him on this aspect, but the report makes clear that Myers approved the deal knowing that it conferred extraordinary benefits on the rancher without requiring him to drop the RICO suit.
“The Senate should set a higher standard for confirming nominees to lifetime federal Court of Appeals appointments than that the person has yet to be indicted.” Ruch concluded. “The Senate Judiciary Committee owes the country due diligence in its review of high court nominees and should open an inquiry on this matter.”