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“Undue Influence” by Ron Arnold

An excerpt by Ron Arnold

Undue Influence

Public policy is a study
in secrecy, lies, McGinty,
Clinton and Babbitt.

Secrets: In the summer of 1995, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance issues director Ken Rait escorted Katie McGinty through the area that would become the new national monument. Gore and McGinty had adopted the 5 million-plus acre wilderness goals for the area that had been urged by SUWA and its prescriptive foundation funders.

A sense of urgency pervaded this visit: the Republicans now controlled Congress, and the Utah delegation was supporting a bill that proposed to designate 2.1 million acres as wilderness instead of the 5 million-plus acres the administration wanted.

McGinty was “on vacation” in and around the area for the better part of two weeks. A newspaper account said Rait used the visit as an opportunity to lobby McGinty for preservation and that she was struck by the beauty of the region. McGinty appears to have discussed the possibility of designating the area a national monument with SUWA officials, the Sierra Club, and other environmental groups–election year was coming up, and green groups were not happy with Clinton and the timber rider.

At about the same time, Bruce Babbitt’s Interior Department began to study the details of using a national monument to trump Congress. SUWA and other environmental groups had a direct line into Babbitt’s office through his special assistant, Geoff Webb, who previously worked for Friends of the Earth and had spent considerable time in Utah for the environmental group working on nuclear waste storage and coal leasing issues. Webb had served as Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director for External Affairs during Jim Baca’s abrasive nine-month tenure as BLM Director, and got assigned to Babbitt after Baca was fired in February of 1994 for antagonizing ranchers, loggers, miners, property owners and practically everyone else in the resource class.

The evidence that staff at Interior discussed the monument idea near the time McGinty toured Utah with Ken Rait is clear: In July of 1995, Interior Department Solicitor John Leshy assigned staff attorneys to evaluate the legalities of national monument designation, particularly the details of how to avoid the lengthy environmental review required by NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Dave Watts and Robert Baum studied the issue and reported back on August 3, 1995:

To the extent the Secretary proposes a national monument, NEPA applies. However, monuments proposed by the president do not require NEPA compliance because NEPA does not cover presidential actions. To the extent that the president directs that a proclamation be drafted and an area withdrawn as a monument, he may direct the Secretary of the Interior to be part of the president’s staff and to undertake and complete all the administrative support. This Interior work falls under the presidential umbrella.

Why would anyone in the Clinton administration want to know how to declare a national monument without environmental compliance? The only plausible answer is to avoid a public process and act in secrecy.

The proposal for a national monument in Utah thus originated with the Interior Department. Now the problem was how to create a paper trail to make it look like the idea came directly from the president.

The presidential umbrella they required, of course, was held by Katie McGinty. As election year began to heat up, she held a series of meetings with her staff on the Utah national monument plan.

The Paper Chase: On March 18, 1996, McGinty and her staff discussed creating a fake letter from the president to Bruce Babbitt. McGinty was in a hurry because she wanted to announce the new national monument in April, preferably as part of Earth Day celebrations. James Craig Crutchfield in the Office of Management and Budget drafted the letter and Linda Lance, CEQ Director for Land Management, edited it. Lance sent a cover e-mail with the letter to McGinty and six staffers, explaining:

Attached is a letter to Babbit [sic] as we discussed yesterday that makes clear that the Utah monument action is one generated by the Executive Office of the President, not the agency.

Their phony letter began:

Dear Secretary Babbitt:
The President has asked that we contact you to request information within the expertise of your agency. As you know, the Congress currently is considering legislation that would remove significant portions of public lands in Utah from their current protection as wilderness study areas. Protection of these lands is one of the highest environmental priorities of the Clinton Administration.

Lance was not sure this was the best approach, and asked at the end of her cover e-mail, “Also, do we know whether the canyonlands and arches areas we’re considering would be affected by the Utah wilderness bill?”

McGinty told Lance this approach wouldn’t work. Back to the drawing board. The next day Lance sent an e-mail to McGinty and four key staffers (reproduced here without editing or corrections):

I completely agree that this can’t be pitched as our answer to their utah bill. but I’m having trouble deciding where we go from here. if we delink from utah but limit our request for info to utah, why? if we instead request info on all sites that might be covered by the antiquities act, we probably get much more than we’re probably ready to act on, including some that might be more compelling than the utah parks? am i missing something or lacking in creativity? is there another utah hook? whatdya think?

I’m getting concerned that if we’re going to do this we need to get this letter going tomorrow. almost everything else is pretty much ready to go to the president for decision, although some drafting of the formal documents like pres. memos still needs to be done.

The first fake letter didn’t fly. The Justice Department wanted a broader presidential request to insure that Interior’s administrative record would be sufficient to stand up in court if challenged, but Lance rejected the idea and wrote a new bogus letter, which she sent with the following e-mail:

Attached is a minimalist approach to the letter to Babbitt. Contrary to what justice may have suggested, I think it’s important that he [the president] limit the inquiry to lands covered by the antiquities act, since that’s the area in which he can act unilaterally. To make a broader request risks scaring people, and/or promising followup we can’t deliver.

I realized the real remaining question is not so much what this letter says, but the political consequences of designating these lands as monuments when they’re not threatened with losing wilderness status, and they’re probably not the areas of the country most in need of this designation. Presidents have not used their monument designation authority in this way in the past–only for large dramatic parcels that are threatened. Do we risk a backlash from the bad guys if we do these–do they have the chance to suggest that this administration could use this authority all the time all over the country, and start to argue that the discretion is too broad?

I’d like to get your view, and political affairs, on this. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I think we need to consider that issue.

Lance’s remarks were prescient, because once the monument was designated and the secrecy of its creation became known, Congress indeed argued that the president’s national monument proclamation power was too broad, and the House passed a bill to rein it in.

McGinty had the timber rider to worry about and this Utah letter problem was depressing her. On March 25, she e-mailed her staff:

I’m increasingly of the view that we should just drop these Utah ideas. We do not really know how the enviros will react and I do think there is a danger of “abuse” of the withdraw/antiquities authorities especially because these lands are not really endangered.

The urgency of re-election overcame McGinty’s serious doubts: she immediately agreed to let Linda Lance and another CEQ staffer, Tom Jensen, meet with Interior staff to iron things out. Only four days later she sent a memo to President Clinton recommending that he sign an attached letter to Babbitt (by this time it was the fourth draft).

There is no indication Clinton ever saw this memo.

Adding Escalante: The meeting of Lance and Jensen with Interior staff in the Secretary’s conference room was productive. An e-mail reported:

They discussed three new candidates for National Monument designation in Utah (Kaiparowits, Grand Gulch, and Escalante), each with pros and cons, and Interior agreed to review these options further. Interior/NPS complained that their park proposal was morphing into a Utah proposal, but Tom and Linda dismiss this complaint.

The new areas were significant because they had long been advocated for protection by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and its prescriptive foundation funders. However, the e-mail added:

According to Linda Lance, the Parks Initiative is not currently on the President’s schedule and no event is likely before the President’s mid-April international trip. May/June is a more realistic timeframe. Interior may not be happy about this, but they created a false urgency by citing a pending Gingrich parks proposal. (It now appears that the only imminent Republican proposal is the Senate Omnibus lands bill, which is on hold because of Utah wilderness.)

Gold Mine Sweeper: The May/June date didn’t materialize. Katie McGinty was deep in another controversy, this one involving Yellowstone National Park. In 1989, Crown Butte Mines, Inc. proposed to develop a Montana site known as the New World Mine near Yellowstone Park. Grant-driven green groups denounced the project as a threat to the Yellowstone ecosystem, even though the mine was two miles downstream from the nearest park boundary.

To prevent the mine’s development, Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park Michael Finley had worked with 14 environmental groups and invited the United Nations World Heritage Committee to investigate the threat posed to Yellowstone by the proposed Crown Butte mine. The U.N. team recommended a huge buffer zone around the park and on December 5, 1995, placed Yellowstone on its list of sites “in danger” though even the Draft Environmental Impact Statement had not yet been completed.

Bruce Babbitt touted the designation as merely an attention-getting gesture to stop the mine, but Congress wondered how such administration moves affected U.S. sovereignty, particularly the power of congressional oversight. The House passed a bill to control such United Nations designations on United States property.

Katie McGinty went behind the scenes brokering a complex deal to stop the New World Mine, trying to get Crown Butte executives to agree to a land swap in return for its rights to an estimated $650 million in gold. The company would get federal land worth $65 million, but Crown Butte would agree to set aside $22.5 million to clean up water pollution problems at the mine site, almost all of which was private property not subject to the mining law.

The company had invested about $37 million in exploration, permits and engineering, but the foundation-funded Greater Yellowstone Coalition had kept the project on hold for six years.

And Bruce Babbitt kept complaining about the “antiquated” Mining Act of 1872 that allowed big corporations to claim federal land for only $5 an acre, never explaining all the later general mining laws that made such cheap land such an expensive investment.

McGinty was hoping for an agreement that could be announced during the president’s vacation in August.

Back to the Fake Letters: The Utah project heated up again in mid-July, when it looked like the opportunity for a presidential “event” to announce the national monument would be coming soon. Tom Jensen wrote yet another draft of the fake Babbitt letter and sent it with the following e-mail to fellow CEQ staffer Peter G. Umhofer on July 23:

Peter, I need your help.

The following text needs to be transformed into a singed [sic] POTUS [President of the United States] letter ASAP. The letter does not need to be sent, it could be held in an appropriate office (Katie’s? Todd Stern’s?) but it must be prepared and signed ASAP.

You should discuss the processing of the letter with Katie, given its sensitivity.

The rewrite of the fake letter was by this time merely a matter of changing tiny details for the paper trail. Jensen also supplied a cover letter for Katie McGinty to send to the POTUS recommending that he sign the attached Babbitt letter. McGinty was pleased with the result. Three days later, Interior Solicitor John Leshy sent a memo to Charles Wilkinson, a University of Colorado professor enlisted to write the legal proclamation establishing the monument. It warned him any public release of information could prevent the monument from being formed.

Both Interior and CEQ had assurances that the White House would approve an announcement soon. Feeling the time pressure, McGinty e-mailed the following to CEQ staffer Todd Stern on July 29:

The president will do the Utah event on Aug. 17. However, we still need to get the letter signed ASAP. The reason: under the antiquities act, we need to build a credible record that will withstand legal challenge that: (1) the president asked the secy to look into these lands to see if they are of important scientific, cultural or historic value; (2) the secy undertook that review and presented the results to the president; (3) the president found the review compelling and therefore exercised his authority under the antiquities act. presidential actions under this act have always been challenged. they have never been struck down, however.

So, letter needs to be signed ASAP so that secy has what looks like a credible amount of time to do his investigation of the matter. we have opened the letter with a sentence that gives us some more room by making clear that the president and babbitt had discussed this some time ago.

That August 17 date didn’t work, but this time the Office of the President got the Babbitt letter and White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta responded to it–but he knew nothing about it and needed to be briefed. Katie McGinty e-mailed Marcia Hale, staffer at the White House:

Leon Panetta asked that I prepare talking points for you to use in making calls to certain western elected officials regarding the proposed Utah event.

My notes indicate that Leon wanted you to call Governor Roy Romer, Governor Bob Miller, former Governor Mike Sullivan, former Governor Ted Schwinden, Senator Harry Reid, Senator Richard Bryan, and Representative Bill Richardson to test the waters and gather their reactions.

The reactions to these calls, and other factors, will help determine whether the proposed action occur. If a final decision has been made on the event, and any public release of the information would probably foreclose the President’s option to proceed.

Polling these Democrat politicals–none from Utah–and “other factors” (which included Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Sierra Club, and select foundation funders) got positive responses.

POTUS Clinton signed the fake Babbitt letter on August 7, evidently no more aware of its deceptive history than Panetta had been.

Clinton’s attention was on his vacation to Yellowstone National Park. McGinty had finished the negotiations with Crown Butte. On August 12 he announced to the nation–while the Republicans were nominating Bob Dole as their presidential candidate in San Diego– that his administration had just “saved” a national park with a land trade.

Clinton told the audience of dignitaries and celebrities including the late John Denver: “The agreement that has been reached with Crown Butte to terminate this project altogether proves that everyone can agree that Yellowstone is more precious than gold.”

At the end of his speech, Clinton had Katie McGinty sign the agreement with Crown Butte executives to the applause of all.

The day after the Yellowstone announcement, Clinton asked McGinty for information about the proposed Utah announcement “event.”

On August 14, 1996, the day before the now-unnecessary Warner Creek protesters would be arrested, and three months before the presidential election, Katie McGinty wrote to President Clinton:


The political purpose of the Utah event is to show distinctly your willingness to use the office of the President to protect the environment. In contrast to the Yellowstone ceremony, this would not be a “feel-good” event. You would not merely be rebuffing someone else’s bad idea, you would be placing your own stamp, sending your own message. It is our considered assessment that an action of this type and scale would help to overcome the negative views toward the Administration created by the timber rider. Designation of the new monument would create a compelling reason for persons who are now disaffected to come around and enthusiastically support the Administration.

Establishment of the new monument will be popular nationally in the same way and for the same reasons that other actions to protect parks and public lands are popular. The nationwide editorial attacks on the Utah delegation’s efforts to strip wilderness protection from these and other lands is a revealing recent test of public interest in Utah’s wild lands. In addition, the new monument will have particular appeal in those areas that contribute most visitation to the parks and public lands of southern Utah, namely, coastal California, Oregon, and Washington, southern Nevada, the Front Range communities of Colorado, the Taos-Albuquerque corridor, and the Phoenix-Tucson area. This assessment squares with the positive reactions by Sen. Reid, Gov. Romer, and Rep. Richardson when asked their views on the proposal.

Opposition to the designation will come from some of the same parties who have generally opposed the Administration’s natural resource and environmental policies and who, in candor, are unlikely to support the Administration under any circumstances. It would draw fire from interests who would characterize it as anti-mining, and heavy-handed Federal interference in the West. Gov. Miller’s concern that Nevada’s sagebrush rebels would not approve of the new monument is almost certainly correct, and echoes the concerns of other friends, but can be offset by the positive response in other constituencies.

Ken Rait of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance was in Washington while McGinty prepared this memo for Clinton. He says he knew nothing of it.

Lies: Three weeks later, in a time-honored ritual common to the Washington scene, the Utah monument plan was leaked to the press, in this case to Tom Kenworthy of the Washington Post. McGinty notified the White House and her staff on Friday, September 6:

We learned late today that the Washington Post is going to run a story this weekend reporting that the administration is considering a national monument designation. I understand that there are no quotes in the story, so it is based only on “the word about town.” I have called several members of Congress to give them notice of this story and am working with political affairs to determine if there are Democratic candidates we should alert. We are neither confirming nor denying the story; just making sure that Democrats are not surprised.

Stunned disbelief was the immediate response by members of Utah’s congressional delegation and Utah’s Republican governor, Michael Leavitt. None had an inkling that the president was even thinking about establishing an almost 2,700-square-mile preserve in the red-rock wild lands of south-central Utah.

Environmentalists and the Washington Post knew all about it. Post reporter Tom Kenworthy sent the following e-mail to CEQ staffer Brian Johnson after writing the leaked story, asking for more leaks:

Brian: So when pressed by Mark Udall and Maggie Fox on the Utah monument at yesterday’s private ceremony for [Arizona Representative] Mo [Udall], Clinton said: “You don’t know when to take yes for an answer.” Sounds to me like it’s going forward. I also hear [Colorado Governor] Romer is pushing the president to announce it when he’s in Colorado on Wednesday. Give me a heads up if it’s imminent–I can’t write another story saying it’s likely to happen, but it would be nice to know when it’s going to happen for planning purposes–Tom Kenworthy. ps: thanks for the packet.

Local governments in Utah went crazy with their congressional delegation, which scurried to find out what was going on, especially Representative Bill Orton, the only Democrat. He was sure this was going to cost him his seat in the coming election (it did). Nobody could learn anything.

Governor Leavitt got the story by fax on Sunday, the day after it appeared on page 3A of the Washington Post. On Monday he called Bruce Babbitt asking about the monument plan. “I don’t know,” said Babbitt. “Call the White House, that’s their thing.” Leavitt called the White House. At first they said it was a mistake, but said they’d get back to him.

It was Wednesday before a staffer returned his call. “Yes,” was the message. “There’s a serious proposal, but no decision.”

Leavitt asked: “What’s the timing?”

The staffer waffled. Bad sign. “It sounds like a policy decision’s been made,” he told the staffer. “I need to come to Washington to see Panetta, or the president.”

While Leavitt was getting nothing from this staffer, Tom Kenworthy of the Washington Post e-mailed Brian Johnson of Katie McGinty’s staff this short, cheerful message:

south rim of the grand canyon, sept 18–be there or be square

Leavitt got a White House appointment for the next Tuesday and flew to Washington the Sunday before. On Monday, Ken Rait of Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance told the governor that there would be an event at the Grand Canyon.

Rait later said he couldn’t remember conveying the message.

The governor does remember.

The Tuesday White House meeting brought out Leon Panetta and Katie McGinty. For half an hour Leavitt, with state planner Brad Barber assisting, explained his own plan for the region, years in preparation, and begged them to hold off, saying that he needed to talk to the president.

The Deseret News published the following account of what happened next from an interview with Leavitt:

[Panetta] says “don’t be too harsh on the president because there’s still time for your input.”

Panetta tells Leavitt, “You made a very compelling case,” adding that Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, has also made a strong argument against the proposal.

“It is clear to me that Bill has put in some licks,” Leavitt says.

“I said, ‘If this is compelling, then the President of the United States needs to know that he is setting aside a part of my state that is equal in size to Rhode Island, Delaware and Washington, D.C., put together.”’

Leavitt is exaggerating but only by a few thousand acres. Panetta’s eyes widen.

“He was very surprised,” says Leavitt, who, with Panetta, pores over a map of the area, color-coded to show private, state and federal lands.

“What are these little blue squares?” wonders Panetta, pointing out the dozens of sections of state trust lands that would be claimed by the monument.

Leavitt said, “I need to talk to the president...and [Panetta] says, ‘Stay by the phone.’”
The president was off campaigning in Illinois and hard to reach. Leavitt stayed near the phone. At midnight in his hotel room, Leavitt gave up and turned in.

At 2:00 a.m. his phone rang.

“Governor, the President of the United States.”

They talked for half an hour. Leavitt realized the monument would happen no matter what he did. So he offered to draft a memo recommending a commission of state and local government officials to set boundaries and to solve a number of management questions.

Clinton said, “Go ahead.”

U.S. News & World Report reported that both Leon Panetta and senior presidential adviser George Stephanopolous expressed strong doubts to McGinty.

This could cost Orton his congressional seat, Panetta fumed, angry that his former House colleague and fellow Democrat had been kept out of the information loop by a “sneaky” McGinty. Panetta said he’d recommend that the president not go through with the plan. Stephanopoulos concurred. McGinty flared and threatened to quit, yelling that it was the right thing to do and too late to stop it now.

McGinty later said the story was not at all true. U.S. News stands by its story.

On September 18, Bill Clinton flew to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and announced the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to an audience of hundreds of environmentalists and celebrities including Robert Redford, who knew where to be and when.

The administration had to honor decade-old mining leases to the Dutch firm Andalex Resources Inc., but said it had the authority to deny ancillary permits the firm would need to build roads on federal lands to get the mined coal out.

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch called it “the mother of all land-grabs.”

The House Resources Committee began a congressional investigation of the secrecy and lies behind the new national monument. They asked for documents. They waited six months. Chairman Don Young obtained subpoena power and sent federal marshals to the White House at midnight to get the memos you have read in this account.

Katie McGinty handled all environmental issues much the same way. When she departed the CEQ in November 1998, her list of achievements was long.

The trail of human despair she left in rural America was longer.

For editorial purposes, footnote references have been omitted. All citations and references can be found in the complete text of Undue Influence by Ron Arnold, an in-depth, thoroughly documented study of the “wealthy foundations, grant-driven environmental groups and zealous bureaucrats that control your future.” Copies of this compelling 325-page book are available through RANGE for $16.95 plus $1.60 S&H. Send $18.55 to RANGE, P.O. Box 639, Carson City, NV 89702 or call 1-800-726-4348. Undue Influence should be required reading for anyone concerned with this country’s future.

Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise in Bellevue, Wash. His books and articles have earned notice from Time, People, U.S. News & World Report, Outside, the New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. He has appeared on all major network evening news broadcasts, as well as ABC News Nightline, and CBS News 60 Minutes.

This excerpt is reprinted with permission from the author.


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