December 17, 1997 in Nation/World

Panel Likely To Question Babbitt In Indian Casino Denial Fund-Raising Probe Shifts To Wisconsin Gambling Case

Associated Press

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt is expected to be called to testify when the House campaign fund-raising inquiry turns its attention Jan. 20-22 to the Clinton administration’s Indian casino decision in Wisconsin, the inquiry’s chairman said Tuesday.

The announcement by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., comes the day after Attorney General Janet Reno rejected Republican requests to include President Clinton in her investigation of the casino ruling.

Republicans have accused Clinton and his aides of engineering the Interior Department’s denial of a casino license to three Chippewa tribes who wanted to compete with a nearby Indian gambling operation.

Tribes opposing the casino donated $300,000 to the Democratic National Committee and other Democrats. Reno said the Republicans failed to cite evidence of any crime by the president.

Burton, chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, also is disputing a decision by the Justice Department to withhold documents involving the proposed casino.

Babbitt told The Washington Post Tuesday that he “was out of the loop” and was “not involved in the decision-making process at all” regarding the casino decision. He said White House inquiries about the case were handled by subordinates and were not brought to his attention.

Burton’s committee, meanwhile, has obtained an Interior Department memo written in June 1995 endorsing the Chippewa casino proposal.

The 22-page draft report was written over the name of George T. Skibine, then director of the Indian Gaming Management Staff at Interior, and said the casino would have “no detrimental impact.” Skibine told the Post the memo was written by an aide and that he viewed it only as a draft and never signed it.

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