- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

Continuous contempt

The odds of Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton becoming the first Bush Cabinet member held in contempt of court increased considerably this week.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who is presiding over Mrs. Norton's contempt trial, found that a court investigator's report on the serious lack of computer security for Indian trust data handled by Interior makes a prima facie case for contempt.

The judge told U.S. Attorney's Office lawyers defending Mrs. Norton that it's now up to them to prove the report is "clearly erroneous" not likely, since Interior had two months to challenge the report's contents and didn't do so.

Maybe they were too embarrassed.

With the court's permission, the investigator hired computer-security experts who hacked, with ease, into the trust system and created a fake account without being detected. This is the same issue that led Judge Lamberth, an appointee to the bench of President George H.W. Bush, to order Interior on Dec. 5 to pull the plug on its Internet connection for trust-related systems.

The contempt charges are an offshoot of a lawsuit filed almost six years ago by Blackfeet banker Elouise Cobell, who wants the court to force Interior to clean up the disastrously mismanaged trust. (Judge Lamberth in 1999 found President Clinton's Treasury secretary, Robert E. Rubin, and his Cabinet colleague, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, in contempt of court after they repeatedly violated a court order to stop destroying Indian trust documents).

The trust receives $500 million a year in revenues from Indian-owned lands throughout the West about $100 billion in all since 1887, including interest. The Cobell plaintiffs have asked Judge Lamberth to strip away the trust from Interior and put it in the hands of a receiver. The mystery is why Mrs. Norton, or the folks in the West Wing, don't just settle the case once and for all.

Meanwhile, after warning Mrs. Norton that a contempt finding is likely, Judge Lamberth left the next day for a two-week vacation. He'll pick up again on Jan. 31.

Pretzel logic

Capitol Hill staffers had to laugh when they logged on to their computers this week and were greeted with their reference desk computer link of the day: "1st-Aid for Choking."

"This site," the message read, "offers refresher training on choking for people with first-aid training. Choking can result in unconsciousness and cardiopulmonary arrest. It is often caused by food or other foreign body lodged in the throat (airway). Indeed, choking caused by foreign-body airway obstruction accounts for about 3,000 deaths each year. The recognition and proper management of choking is of key importance to safety in homes, restaurants, and other public places."

Reacts one congressional staffer: "I don't know if they could have been a little more obvious and had something about pretzels in there."

Partisan profiling

It's not racial profiling in the nation's airports that Democrats need to be concerned about, notes Dave Mohel of the Hathaway Group, rather the recent rash of "Democratic" profiling incidents.

Cases in point:

•Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, is stopped recently by airport security in Washington and told to drop his trousers after his surgically implanted steel hip sets off metal detectors.

•Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, Rhode Island Democrat, is recently caught on tape shoving a female security guard at Los Angeles International Airport when advised that his carry-on luggage is too large.

•Rep. Gary A. Condit, California Democrat, purportedly asks flight attendant Anne Marie Smith to sign a false affidavit, resulting in Miss Smith turning to the FBI for help and protection.

•Former D.C. Mayor Marion S. Barry, a Democrat, is recently sentenced to one year of probation after he reputedly exposes himself to a female janitor at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

President Bush, despite these and other real security concerns at our nation's airports, has reiterated that Americans should not surrender their freedom to travel.

Coming clean

"In the United States Senate, one of the things I observed in the early days and it's still used and that is that you take someone's argument and then you misrepresent it and misstate and disagree with it. And it's very effective. I've done it myself a number of times. But eventually, eventually people catch on."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, speaking this week at the National Press Club in Washington

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