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Secretary of Omission? New Interior chief left tribal casino work off Senate questionnaire

Haaland’s work for tribal casino, development board had been listed in prior government documents but excluded from work history given Senate.

Published: March 15, 2021 7:28pm

Updated: March 16, 2021 12:13am

Congresswoman Deb Haaland, President Biden’s newly confirmed Interior secretary, omitted from her Senate vetting questionnaire two tribal casino-related jobs that she held in the last decade and previously disclosed on other government forms, Just the News has learned.

Haaland, a member of the Pueblo Laguna in New Mexico, did not report on her Senate questionnaire that she served as a paid board member of the Laguna Development Corp., her tribe’s gaming and development arm, from 2010 to 2015 or received pay working for another Pueblo’s band's casino in 2016-17.

Just the News discovered the omissions by reviewing earlier government disclosure forms that Haaland filed with the state of New Mexico when she ran unsuccessfully in 2014 for lieutenant governor and with the U.S. House clerk when she filed to run for Congress in 2017.

The omissions are the latest disclosure problems for the New Mexico Democrat as her nomination passed through the Senate, which confirmed her Monday to be the first-ever Native American Cabinet secretary, by a vote of 51-40.

Earlier, Just the News reported that Haaland had given four conflicting accounts on government forms ranging from $2,250 to $46,000 about how much money she earned in 2018, the year she won her seat in Congress. She also was forced to disclose she did not file a federal tax return in 2018, but did so belatedly last December as her nomination was being vetted.

Ordinarily, such disclosure and tax problems can pose a problem for a nominee. But Democrats plowed ahead and secured Haaland’s confirmation in the face of strong GOP opposition.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, who led opposition to the nomination as ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, sharply criticized Haaland’s candor during the confirmation process.

"Just as troubling as her policy views were her answers to questions during the confirmation process," Barrasso said in a Senate floor speech last week. "She struggled or refused to answer the basic questions any nominee for the Department of the Interior would be expected to know and answer.

He said Haaland’s "lack of responsiveness" was one reason to "disqualify her for this important position as secretary of the Interior."

Haaland’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

When Haaland ran for lieutenant governor in 2014, she reported she had two primary sources of income over $5,000: as a tribal administrator for the Pueblo of San Felipe, a neighboring tribe, and as a board member for the Laguna Development Corp., the gaming and development arm of her own Laguna Pueblo.

But the work history she submitted to the Senate earlier this year mentioned only the San Felipe tribal administrator’s job and not the Laguna Development Corp. board where she served for five years.

A Laguna tribe official told Just the News that Haaland served on the board from 2010 and 2015, including some time as chairwoman, and that board members receive compensation. The official declined to be more specific.

The only mention Haaland made on her Senate work history form about the Laguna Development Corp. was that she was paid as "contract labor" in 2017 and 2018. There was no mention of her service on the board from 2010-15.

Likewise, Haaland’s first financial disclosure form to the House clerk’s office in 2017 listed salaries of $26,000 in 2016 and $27,660 in 2017 from the San Felipe Casino, a tribal casino associated with the San Felipe where she also worked as a tribal administrator. The casino, which now is called the Black Mesa, did not return calls seeking comment.

In Haaland’s employment history submitted to the Senate, she listed her work as tribal administrator/GM for the Pueblo of San Felipe but made no mention of work for the casino.

Senators had already confronted Haaland about other omissions on her work history, including chairwoman of the New Mexico Democratic Party and its native American Caucus.

Haaland responded in supplemental answers that she did not list those two position because she never received compensation.

"In response to the committee questionnaire, I provided details related to positions held since college in which I was employed," she wrote. "Although I volunteered for the positions listed above, these positions were unpaid."

There is no evidence Republican senators were aware of or asked Haaland about the casino job or development board positions that were in her earlier disclosures but not included in the questionnaire.

When asked about those omissions, Barrasso’s office referred Just the News to his earlier floor speech criticizing her lack of responsiveness to questions during the confirmation process.

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