On December 30, the citizens group challenging the Seneca Buffalo Casino filed papers in federal court calling for further scrutiny into the possible connection between the marriage of a high-ranking Interior Department attorney to a powerful Washington, D.C. lobbyist and the Interior Department’s approval of the Seneca Nation of Indian’s casino in downtown Buffalo. The Plaintiff group also questioned the Interior Department’s use of private email accounts to conduct official business that led to the approval of gambling on the Seneca Buffalo casino.
In late August, federal Judge William Skretny stopped short of holding that the relationship between Edith Blackwell, the then-Deputy Solicitor General within the Interior Department, and her spouse, Michael Rossetti, a member of the politically connected lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, which represented the Senecas, tainted the approval process.
Judge Skretny did, however, order the Interior Department to turn over documents it had previously withheld on so-called “deliberative process privilege” grounds and ruled that the citizens group could make further application to the court after reviewing that documentation. Based on that review, the citizens group is now asking for further and complete disclosure of the e-mail accounts and additional documentation which the Justice Department still claims are “privileged.”
According to the federal court filing, Blackwell was married to Rossetti when she used her private email account to participate in the development of a binding legal opinion which benefited only one tribe, the Senecas. The purpose of the opinion, the papers allege, was to overrule the federal court’s decision invalidating gambling on the Seneca’s casino in downtown Buffalo.
“We are especially disturbed by the possibility that the Justice Department is invoking claims of privilege to hide what appears to be a serious conflict of interest, which calls into question the integrity of the entire approval process,” said Dianne Bennett, president of Citizens For a Better Buffalo. “The citizens of Buffalo expect and deserve transparency.”
The court is not expected to rule until after the Government submits papers in response to the motion.