Interior Official's Nomination Stalled: Hayes Linked to Babbitt, Project

Article excerpt

A key senator yesterday stalled the nomination of a top Interior Department official after a report the nominee represented Secretary Bruce Babbitt in a commercial development project from which Mr. Babbitt had recused himself.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, canceled the committee vote on naming David Hayes as deputy secretary after the report first appeared in The Washington Times.

The Alaska Republican said the nomination vote will be set aside until "an evaluation of the circumstances in that article" can be conducted by committee investigators.

Mr. Hayes was specified in an e-mail as a point of contact between Mr. Babbitt and Forest Service officials working on the Canyon Forest Village project at the entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park. Mr. Babbitt recused himself from all matters concerning the project because he represented the developers before he was appointed secretary.

Mr. Murkowski questioned Mr. Babbitt about his and Mr. Hayes' involvement in a separate hearing yesterday.

Mr. Murkowski also asked that copies of all documents, phone records, and electronic correspondence between him, Mr. Hayes and the Forest Service be turned over to his committee "so we can resolve Mr. Hayes' nomination."

Mr. Babbitt said he was under no legal obligation to do so, but he wrote a letter of recusal seven years ago. However, he says his recusal did not include any involvement in a light rail transportation project that will directly link the proposed village development and the park.

"We have never discussed the Canyon Forest application; we have no interest in that at all, we could care less. …