There are many resolutions the federal government should be making for the New Year; with cutting spending at or near the very top of the list. With Republicans controlling both the White House and Congress (for the time being at least), resolutions this year actually could amount to more than just empty words on a quickly-forgotten list. There is one resolution, in fact, that would be easy to implement, would require no help from any Democrat or slippery Republican in the Senate, and that would signal to the country that President Trump truly intends to reinvigorate the sense of justice at the Department of Justice.
Trump should immediately direct Attorney General Jeff Sessions to halt the lengthy and unfair prosecution of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. The nearly four-year old prosecution of Bundy, his sons, and a number of their many supporters, has been more than a prosecution. It has been a crusade; begun under former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2014, continued all this past year by an interim career prosecutor in Las Vegas, and abetted by a federal judge appointed by Obama and whose animus toward Bundy is palpable.
The dispute between Bundy and the federal government goes back decades; rooted in the long-standing effort by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to force the cattle rancher to pay Uncle Sam more than $1 million in disputed “grazing fees.”So intense has been the desire by BLM to squeeze money out of Bundy, that the agency was able to obtain a court order to seize his cattle (and in so doing, strangle Bundy’s livelihood). Bundy, a Mormon rancher whose land has been in his family for generations, still refused to pay the disputed “fees.”
Bundy’s intransigence led BLM agents in the spring of 2014 to start rounding up Bundy’s cattle, and sending heavily armed agents to his ranch to enforce its actions. To further justify its extreme actions against the Bundy family, BLM (part of the Department of the Interior) asserted – with a straight face – that such action was justified because the grazing bovines threatened the habitat of the “endangered” desert tortoise. The ridiculous and heavy-handed attack on the Bundy clan prompted a symbolic (but no less real and dangerous) “range war” between federal agents and pro-Bundy “Sagebrush Rebels” who rushed to his support and to defend against the BLM power grab.
The stand-off, which was heavily covered by the media as it unfolded over several days, eventually de-escalated with nary a shot being fired. Despite the peaceful resolution of the confrontation, and apparently nursing a bruised ego because its agents “backed down,” almost two years later Cliven Bundy, two of his sons, and numerous other supporters were indicted by a federal grand jury. Bundy was arrested, and has been held in jail ever since because the U.S. Attorney’s office in Nevada, backed by Judge Gloria Navarro, asserts without any evidence that he poses a flight risk and is a “danger” to the community.
The latest chapter in the government’s crusade against Bundy ended just last week in a mistrial, following a disclosure that the government deliberately had withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from the defense lawyers. The startling evidence surfaced only thanks to the actions of a BLM whistleblower who previously was involved in the Bundy investigation.
The just-revealed evidence paints a chilling picture of government agents running amok in their zeal to attack Bundy and others who shared his belief that the federal government was overstepping its powers. According to the allegations outlined by the whistleblower, government agents exhibited a “widespread pattern of bad judgment, lack of discipline, incredible bias, unprofessionalism and misconduct, as well as likely policy, ethical and legal violations among senior and supervisory staff.” The standoff that ensued from such behavior easily could have resulted in deaths or serious injuries.
That the government insisted – and continues to this day to do so -- on pressing forward with prosecutions in the face of that peaceful resolution, and even knowing of the internal misconduct by its investigators, constitutes a blatant disregard for fairness, sound judgment, and respect for the law and the Bill of Rights. Although this latest egg on the face of the Department of Justice appears to have prompted Session to order an internal investigation – an investigation that ought to encompass not only the BLM and any other federal law enforcement agency involved, but the U.S. Attorney’s office itself – an immediate halt to the entire Bundy prosecution clearly is called for.
It appears that if justice is to be had, it falls to the President to mete it out; as he did in another politically-motivated prosecution this year – that of former Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Hopefully, the same Donald Trump who exhibited the backbone to take on the Justice Department and pardon Arpaio, will quickly do the same with regard to the Bundy family and its supporters.