weather icon Clear

Congress expected to hold hearings on dismissal of Bundy case

WASHINGTON — GOP lawmakers, the Trump administration and Democrats were sharply divided over public land use and a Nevada standoff between federal law enforcement and a militia led by Cliven Bundy before he was freed from jail.

A federal judge’s decision last week to dismiss conspiracy and assault charges against Nevada rancher Bundy because of misconduct by prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office hardened those positions and moved the battle to Congress.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Republicans have accused the Obama administration of mishandling the 2014 standoff between Bureau of Land Management officials and a large group of militia that prevented them from rounding up Bundy’s cattle illegally grazing on what is now Gold Butte National Monument.

Although the court case against Bundy was dismissed because prosecutors withheld evidence, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has ordered the acting director of the BLM, Brian Steed, to deliver a report on the incident by Jan. 24.

It is expected that a congressional hearing will follow.

“The failures in the Bundy case and previous cases display serious misconduct by BLM law enforcement officials, and strongly suggest that there are systemic issues within BLM’s law enforcement operations,” Bishop said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the ranking Democrat on the committee, has ordered a Government Accountability Office study on the scale of recent threats and attacks against BLM officials and property. The study is underway.

Although mistakes were made by the BLM, Grijalva said, using the committee to “beat up” the agency sets a bad precedent and ignores the larger issue of illegal acts by armed men who openly threatened law enforcement officials.

Dangerous precedent

In any other context, Grijalva said, an armed occupation on federal land would be “tantamount to domestic terrorism.” The Arizona lawmaker said the implicit support of Bundy by the Trump administration and Republicans sets a dangerous precedent.

He said Republicans in the House are misguided in their laser focus on BLM mistakes over the incident that prompted the standoff in the first place: Bundy’s failure to get a permit, grazing cattle illegally on federal land and threatening violent resistance to law enforcement.

“You’ve emboldened people like Bundy and the way they think — that it’s OK to threaten federal marshals with weapons, to occupy an area, armed, and talk about violence and foment that,” Grijalva said in an interview. “The extremists are not just the Bundys, they are in Congress.”

Zinke traveled to Bunkerville, near the site of the standoff, in July as part of a listening tour about the newly created Gold Butte National Monument, which now includes land where the tense standoff played out.

Asked then if the Interior Department would round up Bundy’s cattle, Zinke said he would not address that issue. But Zinke expressed sympathy for ranchers as he proposed rolling back recent presidential declarations that established national monument to protect land, wildlife and artifacts

“As we look at the rancher, that’s as much a part of the culture of a lot of these monuments as some of the objects,” Zinke said.

The secretary did not comment after the judge dismissed the Bundy case. The Department of Interior referred questions about the case to the Justice Department.

But Zinke’s spokeswoman, Heather Swift, said the secretary grew up in Montana and believed a lot of rural Americans felt like the department under the Obama administration “was no longer a good neighbor.”

“One of the secretary’s top priorities when entering office was to restore trust in the federal government and be a better neighbor with states and communities in which we work and own land,” Swift said.

Protecting resources

Environmental groups, such as the Center for Biological Diversity, said the administration’s position threatens the public and fails to protect resources.

“The Trump administration is coddling violent zealots and preventing the public from feeling safe to enjoy our new national monument,” said Patrick Donnelly, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Nevada state director.

Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., said, “The Bundy situation isn’t going to go away. I think that we have to have real discussions on how people are using federal lands and how we make those public-private partnerships work for everyone.”

“How the Bundys protested may not have been appropriate,” she said, “but it’s a problem that will continue and needs to be addressed, because we do have people living on our federal lands.”

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said he was still reviewing the judge’s decision to dismiss the case against Bundy.

He said he wants to understand the decision-making role of Obama administration officials at the time, Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, BLM Director Neil Kornze and state BLM Director Amy Lueders.

If mistakes were made at the top, Amodei said, lawmakers need to know “not for the purposes of me to go off on some political Jihad, but to make sure that for the people that are there now, we can go to them in an oversight context and say, ‘We trust this will never happen again in terms of mistakes that were made.’”

Amodei is a co-sponsor of legislation that would terminate the law enforcement functions of BLM and the Forest Service and make grants available to states, based on percentage of federal land, to maintain law and order and enforce federal law.

That bill is waiting action by the House Natural Resources subcommittee on federal lands.

Amodei said that after talking with federal, state and local law enforcement after the standoff, “what was painted for me was not a picture of seamless cooperation.

“It doesn’t sound like it was a proud day for federal law enforcement in the context of BLM,” Amodei said. So from an oversight position, “we want to make sure that whatever the lessons learned — however embarrassing they may well be — that we don’t repeat those.”

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
FBI agents investigated for ‘lack of candor’ in Oregon standoff case

A new court filing says FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita and several colleagues on the bureau’s elite Hostage Rescue Team are under investigation for alleged “lack of candor” in their statements after the shooting of refuge occupation leader Robert “LaVoy” Finicum.