Oklahoma tribal leaders ask for leniency for ex-Interior official 6-21-07

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Several American Indian leaders from Oklahoma have sent letters to a federal judge seeking leniency for the highest-ranking Bush administration official caught up in the investigation of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby, former Cherokee Nation Chief and current Department of Interior official Ross Swimmer, and former Bureau of Indian Affairs head Neal McCaleb have asked the judge to go easy on former top Department of Interior official Steven Griles.

Griles pleaded guilty in March to obstructing justice by lying to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in its investigation of Abramoff, who is in prison for an unrelated case, the Tulsa World reported from its Washington bureau.

Under the terms of his plea agreement, Griles faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Abramoff was paid millions of dollars from tribes around the country to represent their interests in Washington. Some have questioned what those millions brought to the tribes, since e-mails indicated that Abramoff's camp sometimes privately referred to tribal clients in extremely negative terms.

Griles, the former deputy secretary at the Interior Department, admitted lying about his relationship with Abramoff.

In his letter to U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, Anoatubby credited Griles for his role in the settlement between the federal government, his tribe and two others in a 30-year disagreement over Arkansas riverbed property.

“He worked diligently to support our efforts with Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice to arrive at a resolution to this important matter,” Anoatubby wrote.

McCaleb recalled the trips he took with Griles to Indian Country.

“Steve made many Native American friends under very challenging circumstances by his open and forthcoming nature on these issues,” McCaleb wrote. “He was and is a loyal friend in whom I have great confidence and trust.”

Swimmer, who currently serves as Special Trustee for American Indians, recalled Griles' “total integrity and honesty” in his dealings with tribes.

Griles is expected to be sentenced next week.