Trump Pardons Oregon Ranchers Whose Case Inspired Wildlife Refuge Takeover

President Trump on Tuesday pardoned a pair of Oregon cattle ranchers who had been serving out five-year sentences for arson on federal land — punishments that inspired the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in 2016 and brought widespread attention to anger over federal land management in the Western United States.

The case against the ranchers — Dwight L. Hammond, now 76, and his son, Steven D. Hammond, 49 — became a cause célèbre for an antigovernment group’s weekslong standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The occupation, led by the Bundy family, drew hordes of militia members who commandeered government buildings and vehicles in tactical gear and long guns, promising to defend the family.

During his campaign, Mr. Trump played to that sense of Western grievance, and the pardon of the Hammonds was a signal to conservatives that he was sympathetic. His pardon in August of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., was another such sign.

The Hammond pardons were the result of a monthslong push by agricultural groups like the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had been among the ranchers’ strongest supporters, according to the association’s executive director, Jerome Rosa.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement on Tuesday that the Obama administration had been “overzealous” in pursuing the Hammonds. “This was unjust,” she said.

The pardons drew immediate criticism from environmental groups and their allies, who said they would imperil the rule of law on public lands.

“This is so very wrong,” Joan Anzelmo, a former superintendent of Colorado National Monument, said in a message on Twitter. “No one is safe from from felons with friends in high places. Terrible. Dangerous. Wrong.”

The federal government owns about half the acres in the West, and Obama administration policies there often angered ranchers and others who work and live on those lands. His administration blocked new coal leases, imposed moratoriums on uranium drilling near the Grand Canyon, and placed an unprecedented amount of land and sea under heightened federal protection.

Mr. Trump, in contrast, has struck a far more favorable tone toward those who want to loosen regulation on public land, and he has been aided by Mr. Zinke. In December, the president sharply reduced the size of two conservation areas in Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. It was the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history.

The Hammonds were prosecuted under a 1996 terrorism statute, passed after the Oklahoma City bombing, that imposed five-year mandatory minimum sentences for arson on federal property. Critics called the sentences too harsh.

“The Hammonds are multigeneration cattle ranchers in Oregon imprisoned in connection with a fire that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land,” Ms. Sanders said. “The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges.”

In a pointed criticism of the Obama administration, she added, “The previous administration, however, filed an overzealous appeal that resulted in the Hammonds being sentenced to five years in prison.”

Dwight and Steven Hammond — who own about 13,000 acres of land in Eastern Oregon and once ran cattle on 26,000 acres of public land — have a history of conflict with federal officials, which indirectly led to the showdown in Oregon.

Both were convicted for a 2001 fire that burned more than 100 acres of federal land. While the Hammonds said it was devised to control invasive species, witnesses at their trial testified that it occurred after Steven Hammond and a hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer. The jury was told that Steven Hammond handed out matches and told allies to “light up the whole country on fire.”

He was also convicted of setting a second fire, in 2006, which he said was meant to manage the spread of other wildfires, a common practice.

The pair was convicted in 2012 and served a short time in prison. But a federal appeals court ruled in 2015 that they had been improperly sentenced and ordered them to return to prison.

Word of this second imprisonment soon reached the Bundy family, a sprawling ranching clan based in Bunkerville, Nev., that in recent years had emerged as a symbol of the most extreme version of the push against federal land control.

Angered by the Hammond case, two of the Bundy brothers, Ryan and Ammon, traveled to Oregon and stormed the Malheur wildlife refuge in what turned into a standoff with federal officials.

Many of those who joined the protest were members of unofficial militias who carried long guns and pistols and dressed as if at war. The occupation resulted in the death of a rancher from Arizona.

The Hammonds, however, never asked for the help of the Bundys or the militia members, and amid it all, quietly headed to prison.

The pardons will shave some time off the Hammonds’ sentences — Dwight Hammond has served three years and Steven Hammond has served four.

Ryan Bundy, one of the occupation leaders, hailed the president’s announcement of the pardons as a victory, the latest in a string of wins for his family. Mr. Bundy was ultimately acquitted for his role in the takeover, and is now running for governor of Nevada.

“Awesome, awesome, awesome,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming. It’s been a long time coming. That is good news.”

The move also drew praise from the cattlemen’s association.

“I had the opportunity to have a private meeting with him,” Mr. Rosa, the group’s executive director, said of Mr. Zinke. “I mentioned to him the Hammond situation. He was well aware of it, agreed that the Hammonds were good people, and said he would talk to the president and give his blessing to release the Hammonds from prison.”

Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, also lobbied aggressively for the pair’s release.

But some conservation groups strongly opposed the decision.

“Pardoning the Hammonds sends a dangerous message to America’s park rangers, wildland firefighters, law enforcement officers and public lands managers,” Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement. “President Trump, at the urging of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, has once again sided with lawless extremists who believe that public land does not belong to all Americans.”

The Hammonds are the sixth and seventh people to receive pardons from Mr. Trump. In all his pardons, Mr. Trump bypassed the typical process (a five-year waiting period is required for requests to be made to the Justice Department) and passed over the more than 10,000 pardon and clemency applications. The president has the power to pardon anyone sentenced for a federal offense.

[The New York Times]

Trump says he’s considering pardon for Muhammad Ali, who doesn’t need one

President Donald Trump said Friday he was considering granting a posthumous pardon for Muhammad Ali — prompting a lawyer for his estate and family to say thanks, but no thanks: The boxing great had his criminal conviction overturned by the Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago.

Trump, who has issued several pardons and commutations in recent weeks, told reporters that he was “thinking about Muhammad Ali,” for a pardon.

“He was not very popular then, his memory is very popular now,” Trump said at the White House shortly before a departure for the G-7 summit in Quebec City, Canada. “I’m thinking about that very seriously.”

Not long after, an attorney for Ali’s estate and family responded, saying that a pardon wouldn’t be necessary.

“We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Muhammad Ali in a unanimous decision in 1971,” Ron Tweel, who has represented Ali and his family since 1986, told NBC News. “There is no conviction from which a pardon is needed.”

But even though there is no Ali conviction on the books — the usual reason for a pardon — former DOJ pardon attorneys say it’s too limited to think of a pardon as simply a conviction eraser.

“A pardon is an act of forgiveness,” says former pardon attorney Samuel Morrison. “The pardon is for the conduct, regardless of whether there was or still is a conviction.”

For example, In 1977, President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty, which is a pardon for a group, to all Vietnam-era draft evaders, many of whom had never been convicted.

Ali, who died in 2016, was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison and stripped of his heavyweight boxing title after he refused, in 1967, to report for induction to fight in the Vietnam War, declaring himself a conscientious objector and citing his Muslim faith.

Ali appealed his conviction, allowing him to remain out of prison, and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1971 in a unanimous decision that found the Department of Justice had improperly told the draft board that Ali’s stance wasn’t motivated by religious belief.

Even as his health declined, Ali did not shy from politics — or from criticizing Trump. In December 2015, he released a statement slamming then-candidate Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. “We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda,” Ali said.

Meanwhile, Trump, who recently pardoned Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champ, also said that he has a list of several thousand other names that he is reviewing for potential pardons.

Trump added that he was “looking at literally thousands of names.”

Trump has issued several pardons and commutations so far in his presidency.

In addition to his posthumous pardon last month of Johnson, the African-American boxing legend who was convicted under a law that was used as a deterrent to interracial dating, Trump has also issued pardons to conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to violating campaign finance laws; Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff who is a favorite of immigration hard-liners; I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted of obstructing justice and lying to authorities during an investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame; and Kristian Mark Saucier, a Navy sailor who took photos of classified areas inside a nuclear submarine.

On Wednesday, Trump commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving life in prison on drug charges, after reality star Kim Kardashian West lobbied the president in an Oval Office meeting to intervene on her behalf.

Trump has also hinted at pardoning lifestyle and home merchandise mogul Martha Stewart, who was convicted in 2004 on charges related to insider stock trading, and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced in 2011 to 14 years in federal prison on corruption charges, including attempting to solicit bribes in exchange for President Barack Obama’s open Senate seat.

[NBC News]

Trump Pardons Dinesh D’Souza, Who Pleaded Guilty To Campaign Finance Fraud

President Trump has pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to making illegal campaign contributions in other people’s names.

On Twitter on Thursday, Trump said D’Souza was “treated very unfairly by our government.”

The White House later issued an official statement saying D’Souza was, “in the president’s opinion, a victim of selective prosecution” — an opinion that was roundly rejected by a federal judge when D’Souza was sentenced. The White House also noted that D’Souza “accepted responsibility for his actions” and completed community service.

D’Souza has been an outspoken supporter of President Trump.

This is the fifth pardon of Trump’s presidency. He told reporters on Air Force One on Thursday that he is considering using his clemency power in other high-profile cases, as well.

He said he is weighing a pardon for Martha Stewart, who served time for conspiracy and lying to federal investigators but has been free for more than a decade. Trump said she was “unfairly treated” and “used to be my biggest fan in the world.”

And the president said he was considering commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced to more than a decade in prison for corruption after he tried to sell the Senate seat vacated by former President Barack Obama.

Trump said Blagojevich was put in jail “for being stupid and saying things that … many other politicians say.” He also noted that Blagojevich is a Democrat.

“I don’t know him other than that he was on The Apprentice for a short period of time,” Trump said, referring his former reality TV show. Blagojevich was a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice in 2010.

D’Souza is a best-selling author and successful filmmaker who served as an adviser in the Reagan administration. He’s also a prominent Christian activist; he used to be the president of a Christian college but resigned after he became engaged to one woman while still married to another. He is also a former commentator on NPR.

In 2014, when he was charged with violating federal election campaign laws, D’Souza alleged that he was the victim of selective prosecution, targeted for his conservative beliefs. He had been sharply critical of Obama, whose administration prosecuted him.

A judge rejected that defense, calling it “all hat, no cattle.” Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who prosecuted the case, emphatically denied any political motivation.

“As our office’s record reflects, we will investigate and prosecute violations of federal law, particularly those that undermine the integrity of the democratic electoral process, without regard to the defendant’s political persuasion or party affiliation,” he said in 2014. “That is what we did in this case and what we will continue to do.”

D’Souza ultimately admitted to donating tens of thousands of dollars to a U.S. Senate campaign, well above the individual contributions limit of $5,000, by funneling money to other people and donating in their names.

As part of his guilty plea, D’Souza admitted that he “knew what he was doing was wrong and something the law forbids,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said in a statement.

D’Souza was sentenced to five years of probation, including eight months’ confinement in a community center.

He has continued to protest his prosecution as political, and celebrated when Bharara was pushed out of office by the Trump administration.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood blasted Trump’s pardon of D’Souza.

“President Trump is undermining the rule of law by pardoning a political supporter who is an unapologetic convicted felon,” Underwood said in a statement.

In addition to the five people pardoned, Trump has granted one commutation since taking office.

All the cases have involved public figures or received media attention — from Scooter Libby to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Trump is moving to grant pardons much more quickly than his most recent predecessors. At this same point in their presidencies, former Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Clinton had not issued any pardons.

While issuing pardons used to be more common, presidents in the past few decades have waited until closer to the end of their terms before granting large amounts of pardons, particularly those that might be considered controversial.

Clemency advocates have noted that high visibility in the press — on Fox News in particular — and personal appeals from celebrities seem to help when seeking clemency from Trump.

Actor Sylvester Stallone successfully lobbied for a posthumous pardon for legendary boxer Jack Johnson.

On Wednesday, reality star Kim Kardashian West met with Trump at the White House to make the case for clemency for Alice Marie Johnson, a great-grandmother serving life in prison for a first-time drug offense.

Kardashian West tweeted after the meeting that she hopes Trump will act on Johnson’s case.

[NPR]

Trump Pardons Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s Former Chief of Staff

President Donald Trump pardoned I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Friday, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted in 2005 of perjury and obstruction of justice after a leak that disclosed a CIA agent’s name.

“I don’t know Mr. Libby, but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly,” Trump said in a statement from the White House. “Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.”

ABC News and The Washington Post both reported this week that Trump had been considering the pardon for a few months, but there was no clear timeline for when it might happen.

The chief prosecutor in Libby’s case, Patrick Fitzgerald, also happens to be friends with former FBI Director James Comey.

Libby was charged in 2005 with lying to the FBI, perjury and obstruction of justice following an investigation into who leaked the identity of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative at the time, to various journalists. Libby, according to prosecutors, lied about where he learned of her identity and what he discussed with reporters.

He pleaded not guilty but resigned from his position and was disbarred until 2016. He was also sentenced in 2007 to 30 months in prison and fined $250,000 for his role in the leak case.

President George W. Bush refused to grant a pardon to Libby, despite Cheney pushing for it, although the former president did commute Libby’s 30-month prison sentence.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage eventually admitted in 2006 that he was the one who inadvertently revealed Plame’s identity.

Trump’s most controversial pardon to date was that of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio last August. Arpaio had been convicted of criminal contempt for violating a federal judge’s order to stop detaining individuals the sheriff believed were in the country illegally. Arpaio had a long history of discrimination and unlawful policing toward Hispanics. He’s now running for Senate.

[Huffington Post]

Trump Pardons His Friend Sheriff Joe Arpaio

President Donald Trump has pardoned controversial former sheriff Joe Arpaio of his conviction for criminal contempt, the White House said Friday night.

Arpaio, who was a sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona, was found guilty of criminal contempt last month for disregarding a court order in a racial profiling case. Arpaio’s sentencing had been scheduled for October 5.

“Not only did (Arpaio) abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise,” wrote US District Judge Susan Bolton in the July 31 order.

Trump indicated he would pardon Arpaio at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday: “I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy.”

“I’ll make a prediction,” Trump said, adding, “I think he’s going to be just fine.”

However, civil rights groups have pushed back against the possibility of Arpaio’s pardon.

After Trump’s comments at the Phoenix rally, the ACLU tweeted: “President Trump should not pardon Joe Arpaio. #PhoenixRally #noarpaiopardon,” accompanied with a graphic that reads, “No, President Trump. Arpaio was not ‘just doing his job.’ He was violating the Constitution and discriminating against Latinos.”

Arpaio, who has called himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” was an early Trump supporter, but his stance on illegal immigration was what had earned him national recognition.

[CNN]