Lawsuit seeks access to records of Coyote Springs development

WASHINGTON -- A conservative watchdog group said Tuesday it is suing the Bureau of Land Management seeking documents that might link Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and two other Nevada lawmakers to approvals for the massive Coyote Springs real estate development.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said the group was focusing on reported actions by Reid, the Senate majority leader, in moving along the project headed by Reno attorney and developer Harvey Whittemore.

"We are looking to see what contacts there were between the senator and the Bureau of Land Management in relation to this controversial land arrangement," Fitton said.

Reid spokesman Jon Summers said Judicial Watch was embarking on a witch hunt. "This is clearly a politically motivated move by a right-wing group attempting to get headlines using Sen. Reid," he said.

Reid's office further released a staff-prepared document noting Judicial Watch investigations against Bill and Hillary Clinton and other prominent Democrats since it was formed in 1994.

It questioned whether the latest lawsuit was "payback" for Reid opposing the nomination of Solicitor General Ted Olson, a conservative, to become attorney general.

Fitton said, "Politicians hate to be scrutinized, and Sen. Reid is no exception."

The Judicial Watch lawsuit, filed Sept. 5 in U.S. District Court in Washington, also seeks to compel the BLM to turn over letters and other communications from the offices of Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Jim Gibbons, who was a Republican House member before being elected governor last fall.

Fitton said the group went to court after the BLM did not respond to a Freedom of Information Act request Judicial Watch filed on March 8.

Judicial Watch was inspired by a report published by the Los Angeles Times in August 2006, Fitton said. The newspaper reported that Reid used his influence in attempts to clear obstacles for Coyote Springs within the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Besides its targeting of Democrats, Judicial Watch has sued Vice President Dick Cheney and the Halliburton Company, alleging accounting fraud during Cheney's leadership Halliburton in the 1990s.

In 2001 it also sued Cheney and his national energy policy task force, charging violations of open meeting laws.

The Coyote Springs development covers 42,000 acres that straddle Clark and Lincoln counties abut 50 miles north of Las Vegas. It is envisioned as the largest real estate project in Nevada, with as many as 159,000 homes and 16 golf courses.

Because 87 percent of the state is federal land, "all members of Nevada's delegation work on land use and natural resource issues," Summers said Tuesday. "It is their responsibility to talk to federal land and conservation agencies."

In August 2006, two public land advocacy groups filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn a BLM-approved 10,000-acre land swap that benefited the developer. The groups charged the agency violated environmental and public land laws.

That lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court in Reno.