Washington, DC - Contrary to his Senate testimony, William Myers, the controversial former Solicitor for the Department of Interior who has been nominated by President Bush to serve on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, was aware of the terms of an improper settlement reached with a politically connected Wyoming rancher, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Community Rights Counsel (CRC). The two groups are asking the Senate Judiciary Committee to question one of Myers' former subordinates at the Interior Solicitor's Office.
At issue is whether Myers was telling the truth when he repeatedly assured the Senate that he was not briefed and "did not know" the terms of the controversial settlement with a Wyoming rancher, that was subsequently criticized by the Interior Office of Inspector General. But, according to the rancher's attorney, Myers was fully informed on the progress and key terms by his hand-picked subordinate, Robert Comer, the Regional Solicitor for the Rocky Mountain States. In further support of her contention that Myers was in the loop, the rancher's attorney, Karen Budd-Falen, pointed to a fax directed to Myers, among others, spelling out the settlement terms.
One of the controversies about the settlement was its exclusion of a lawsuit by the rancher against federal employees accusing them of racketeering, under the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO). Myers contended that he was unaware of this provision and the Interior Office of Inspector General maintains Comer misled Myers on this point. In a rebuttal prepared by Budd-Falen, she wrote:
"[The OIG] Report assumes that Comer failed to inform his superiors of the status and issues and positions in the Settlement Agreement, including the RICO issue. This is simply not the case…Due to Robert's [the Assistant U.S. Attorney] repeated insistence that the RICO case not be included in the Settlement Agreement, it was eventually removed by Comer…[Interior and Department of Justice officials] and Bill Myers (Solicitor for the Department of Interior) were all notified of this change." (citations omitted)
"Who is telling the truth, Bill Myers or his trusted aide?" asked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who filed the complaint sparking the OIG investigation. "The Senate should hear what Regional Solicitor Comer has to say before it casts a vote on a lifetime appointment for Bill Myers to serve on one of the highest courts in the land."
"This new evidence puts Myers in the Robbins settlement loop," said Doug Kendall, CRC's Executive Director. "It suggests that a central part of Mr. Myers' Senate Judiciary Committee testimony was false. Plainly there needs to be an investigation of these developments."
The settlement agreement virtually immunized the rancher from penalties for grazing violations and left Interior's own employees in legal jeopardy. It was subsequently rescinded. Myers has defended his role in the imbroglio by maintaining that he was not informed about the status or terms of the deal.