According to press reports, Harper, who was registered as a lobbyist for tribes in 2008, did have influence at the U.S. Department of the Interior on Indian issues while serving as a “team lead,” and under transition team guidelines, he was allowed to offer input on his personal work, which focused largely on Indian and tribal trust issues since the 1990s. This has led to the question of whether Harper recommended the hiring of the very administration officials with whom he and his firm later negotiated trust settlements. Another vexing question is whether there was a deal struck between Harper and administration officials that enhanced his firm’s financial gain from the Cobell settlement, or from other trust cases that he and his firm handled for tribes.
Keith Harper, a partner with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton
A tribal trust case Harper and his firm worked on for the Passamaquoddy Tribe resulted in a settlement with the Obama administration of $12 million this April. In that agreement, the federal government stipulated that the lawyers were to be paid 15 percent of the settlement, $1.8 million. The agreement also said that fees for Harper’s firm were to be paid directly from the federal government. Dozens of other tribal trust settlements announced at the same time were not structured in this manner; instead, tribal officials received the full settlement, and the tribes then decided how to pay their lawyers—and in all known cases at rates lower than what Harper’s firm received for its work for the Passamaquoddy Tribe. There were 41 tribal trust settlements announced at the time.