Babbitt Cheered By Interior Employees
Secretary vows, 'We will be vindicated'
By Brooks Jackson and Terry Frieden/CNN
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 13) -- Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt told cheering employees of his department Friday, "I'm going to fight this out to the bitter end, and we will be vindicated."
It was his first appearance in Washington since Attorney General Janet Reno requested the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate Babbitt. He was in Florida when the investigation was announced Wednesday.
Babbitt made a triumphal entry into the Interior Department auditorium, applauded by several hundred employees, many of whom reached out to shake his hand. Moments later the auditorium erupted into even louder applause when Babbitt vowed to stay in his job. "Here I am," he said. "Here I am going to stay."
Although Reno asked only for an investigation into whether Babbitt misled Congress in his testimony before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Babbitt spoke as though the entire department were under attack. In his testimony, Babbitt denied that campaign donations or White House pressure had been behind the department's decision to block an Indian casino in Hudson, Wis.
Babbitt encouraged employees to continue cooperating with the investigation, but also urged them to concentrate on their work. "We owe it to this administration and to the American people not to be distracted by what's going on," Babbitt said.
Babbitt complained of "endless document requests" by investigators, and
said Interior employees had been "harassed" by multiple demands for
He also lashed out at the news media and at congressional investigators for whom, he said, "facts are not enough."
Babbitt took no questions from the audience.
Interior Department lawyers seek to halt Indians' civil suit
Meanwhile, government lawyers defending Babbitt in a related civil case have asked a federal court in Wisconsin to halt proceedings in the lawsuit, brought by the Indian tribes denied the gaming license.
Citing the Justice Department's request for an independent counsel to investigate possible criminal charges in the decision-making, the lawyers asked for a stay in the proceedings.
The lawyers for Babbitt said the proceedings should stop until the outside counsel is named and given a chance to make recommendations on the future course of the civil case.
The government motion said, "As a consequence of the Attorney General's application, there may be an overlap between the Independent Counsel's proposed jurisdiction and the issues at dispute in the civil litigation."
The federal attorneys said an indefinite delay would ensure that the handling of the suit does not affect the integrity of the independent counsel's investigation.