Hammond pardons draw cheers, shrugs from officials
SALEM — President Trump's pardon Tuesday of two Eastern Oregon ranchers, whose treatment in the court system was a stated motivation for the 2016 takeover of a Harney County federal wildlife refuge by an armed group, got mixed reactions from Oregon officials.
Republicans expressed elation at the pardons. Democrats appeared less enthusiastic.
In 2012, Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven, were convicted of two counts of arson on federal lands in connection with fires in 2001 and 2006. Despite the charges carrying a mandatory minimum five-year sentence, the trail judge sentenced Dwight Hammond to three months in prison. Steven Hammond was sentenced to a year and one day.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice won an appeal that ruled both men needed to serve the mandatory minimum sentence under the federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Hammonds went back to prison. Their supporters claimed double jeopardy, while the government successfully argued the trial judge did not have discretion to diverge from the mandatory minimum sentence.
A looseknit group of armed people occupied the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, 2016, to protest federal land management, and the leaders of that occupation said they were trying to bring attention to the Hammonds' ordeal. But the Hammonds have distanced themselves from the Malheur occupation and its supporters.
Oregon Republicans widely celebrated the news of the pardon. U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who represents most of the vast swath of Oregon east of the Cascades and had urged the president to pardon the Hammonds, said in a statement that the president's decision was "a win for justice, and an acknowledgment of the unique way of life in the high desert, rural West."
"For far too long, Dwight and Steven Hammond have been serving a mandatory minimum sentence that was established for terrorists," Walden said. "This is something that would 'shock the conscience,' according to Federal Judge Michael Hogan, who presided over the case and used his discretion in sentencing which was later reversed. As ranchers across Eastern Oregon frequently tell me, the Hammonds didn't deserve a five-year sentence for using fire as a management tool, something the federal government does all the time."
State Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, whose Senate district includes Harney County, said in a statement that he was "very happy" for the Hammonds and "grateful to our president for his action."
"By virtue of presidential discretion, Dwight and Steve can now return to their families and their lives in Eastern Oregon," Bentz said. "The president's exercise of his pardon authority serves to remind us that the incredible force of the federal government, under our Constitution, is still subject to a single person's (our president's) decision to extend the hand of mercy."
Republican gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler, a state representative from Bend, wrote in a Twitter post that "justice has been served" for the Hammonds.
Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, declined through a spokesman to comment on the pardons. But Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum took to Twitter Tuesday morning. "Pardon me?" Rosenblum, a fellow Democrat, posted on Twitter. "The (federal) court overseeing a large swath of the West & Oregon, followed the Rule of Law in overturning the Hammonds' reduced sentences for committing arson on Oregon (federal) lands. (The president), who has not set foot here since being elected, has pardoned them. We can only wonder why."
The Hammonds had supporters, particularly among farm and ranching organizations. "Farm Bureau was shocked by the minimum five-year sentence the Hammonds faced," said American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall. "Even worse was the Justice Department's decision to use anti-terrorism laws to prosecute them. We could not be happier this ugly chapter in governmental overreach has come to an end."
However, others worry the pardons will embolden extremists who want to end or drastically reduce the federal government's control over vast swaths of the West.
"They now think they have a friend in the White House who does not value public lands," said Aaron Weiss, media director for the Center for Western Priorities, a nonprofit that advocates protecting public land.