Trump pardons ranchers whose arrests led to armed occupation of wildlife refuge

Leroy Wright
July 11, 2018

"The Hammonds are multi-generation cattle ranchers in OR imprisoned in connection with a fire that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land", White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement issued Tuesday on the full pardon of the Hammonds.

Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son Steven, 49, were convicted in 2012 and sent to prison on arson charges. In Oregon, about half of all land is controlled by the federal government. Although prosecuted under a post-Oklahoma City federal anti-terrorism law that carried a minimum five-year sentence, sentencing Judge Michael Hogan exercised judicial discretion and refused to impose the mandated minimum.

In announcing the pardons White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders dubbed the appeal from prosecutors "overzealous", calling the sentencing "unjust". "Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency". The Hammonds had set fires in 2001 and 2006-one to fight invasive species, another to protect.

Their plight prompted Ammon and Ryan Bundy's Citizens for Constitutional Freedom to stage a protest, occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern OR from January 2 to February 11, 2016. A judge, however, initially gave Dwight Hammond three months and his son Steven Hammond a year and a day behind bars. The two paid $400,000 to the Bureau of Land Management to settle a related civil suit.

The pardons are Trump's latest show of wielding his presidential power to grant clemency, which critics say intends to dramatize his own complaints of being the victim of a "witch hunt" by USA prosecutors.

"We went up there to prevent the atrocity from happening to begin with, and if people would have listened to us, the Hammonds wouldn't have to have gone through this suffering", Bundy said in a telephone interview.

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In 2016, as a result of their sentencing, Ammon Bundy gathered supporters and took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon.

A full pardon grants broader absolution, which undercuts the dangerousness of setting fires and indicates that public land can be burned without outcome, Weiss said.

The brothers and five other defendants were acquitted in 2016 by a federal court jury in Portland on charges stemming from the takeover.

The OFB, which has advocated on the Hammonds' behalf, said on Tuesday that their punishment was a case of "prosecutorial overreach and bureaucratic vendetta".

On Jan. 2, 2016, militants seized the headquarters of the wildlife refuge in Harney County to protest the Hammonds' prosecution and sentencing.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in OR said Astarita falsely stated he had not fired his weapon during the attempted arrest of protester LaVoy Finicum, who was shot dead by another officer during the incident, "when he knew he had in fact fired his weapon".

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