WASHINGTON – Three days after leaving office, a Clinton administration official sat in his car outside his former workplace and signed documents granting a group of American Indians status as a tribe, a federal investigation has determined.
The paperwork for the Duwamish tribe outside Seattle was signed Jan. 22, 2001, by Michael Anderson, the acting head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A BIA staffer then stamped the document with a date of Jan. 19, 2001 — Anderson's last day on the job.
The report by Interior Department's Inspector General characterized the agency's handling of the Duwamish petition and five others approved at the end of the Clinton administration as "highly unusual." Four were approved by Anderson's predecessor, Kevin Gover.
In each case, the decision went against recommendations by BIA staff assigned to determine if the tribes meet the recognition criteria.
The Justice Department had been made aware of the backdated documents prior to the release of the inspector general's report and had declined to prosecute Anderson for impersonating a federal official.
In a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft on Thursday, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., asked the Justice Department to reconsider that decision.
Anderson, now a partner in a law firm that represents Indian tribes, did not return phone calls seeking comment. In the report, he admits the documents were signed after he left office, but said he did not backdate them or instruct his staff to do so.
Federal recognition as a tribe grants Indians status as a sovereign nation and makes them eligible for many federal benefits. It also can pave the way for casinos on their land.
The inspector general's report paints a picture of a charged, tense atmosphere in the closing days of the Clinton administration. Staff from the BIA's Branch of Acknowledgment and Research (BAR) clashed with Anderson and other top BIA officials who were pushing to get tribal recognition decisions completed.
"The BAR staff collectively described the last seventeen days of the Clinton Administration as pure hell," the report said. The deputy commissioner for Indian affairs, Sharon Blackwell, said confrontations were so heated that she expected someone would get slapped.
It was Blackwell, a career BIA employee who remained through the administrative change, who authorized Anderson to sign the documents and believed backdating them was appropriate since he had intended to sign them.
The report made no recommendation on criminal prosecution but did suggest administrative action against Blackwell and the staffer who backdated the document.
On Wednesday, Neal McCaleb, the Bush administration's secretary of Indian affairs, announced Blackwell's retirement.
McCaleb reversed the Duwamish recognition decision last September, saying the group of 560 Indians does not fit the criteria for federal recognition. The Duwamish are appealing.