February 13, 1998 in Nation/World

Babbitt: Denying Casino Was ‘The Right Decision’ Says He Will Cooperate With Independent Counsel

Mireya Navarro New York Times

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said on Thursday that he felt “put upon” by Attorney General Janet Reno’s decision to seek an outside prosecutor to investigate his role in his department’s rejection of an Indian casino. But he said he would cooperate and in the end “be vindicated.”

Babbitt, who was in Florida to meet with agricultural and environmental interests and present $46 million in federal money for Everglades restoration, called the atmosphere in Washington “corrosive” and said an independent counsel inquiry was unnecessary after three investigations, one by the Justice Department and two by congressional committees.

“I don’t think there’s any other case in the history of these things where this kind of investigation now comes on top of three previous investigations, two of which are not confidential, two of which have spread the entire thing out in the public record,” he said.

On Wednesday, Reno asked a three-judge panel to appoint an independent counsel to investigate whether Babbitt lied to Congress when he answered questions about the casino decision. The investigation was also expected to determine whether the Interior Department’s rejection in 1995 of the Indian gambling project in Hudson, Wis., was in return for contributions from tribes opposed to the casino.

Thursday, Babbitt characterized the issue that led to the legal investigation as “a high-stakes, heavily financed fight over gambling and the rights to a casino.” But he maintained that he and his department acted properly and had made “the right decision, in the right manner, for the right reasons” in denying the casino permit.

Babbitt had been in Florida for three days meeting with Miami-Dade County farmers, touring the Everglades and being briefed by agencies on environmental issues. He addressed the South Florida Water Management District to present $46 million to buy land to build a 4,900-acre filter marsh to cleanse water flowing into the Everglades from agricultural runoff, predominantly from sugar fields.

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