Trump pardons ranchers in case that inspired 2016 occupation

President Trump pardons Oregon ranchers who inspired takeover of federal refuge

President Trump pardons Oregon ranchers who inspired takeover of federal refuge

President Donald Trump has pardoned two ranchers whose case sparked the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon.

Tuesday, Trump said evidence at the Hammonds' trial over their responsibility for the fires was conflicting.

A trial court agreed with the Hammonds that the five-year mandatory minimum sentence was unconstitutional and imposed lesser sentences, the U.S. Attorney's Office statement said.

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

The White House's statement added that the "previous administration ... filed an overzealous appeal that resulted in the Hammonds being sentenced to five years in prison".

Dwight Hammond has served about three years of his sentence and Steven Hammond has served about four of his.

The armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote southeast OR followed a judge's ruling sending Dwight Hammond and his son Steven back to prison to serve longer terms after their initial release from shorter sentences. The pair had also coughed up $400,000 to settle a civil suit with the feds.

Dwight Hammond, 76, and Steven, 49, were convicted in 2012 for setting a fire that spread onto public land after years of disputes with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The announcement came as President Trump set out for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meetings in Brussels, Belgium.

The Hammonds had previously been accused of making death threats against federal officials and were arrested in 1994 after trying to stop federal workers from fencing off a canal at Malheur. A judge, however, initially gave Dwight Hammond three months and his son Steven Hammond a year and a day behind bars.

Many have also seen the president as sending a signal with his pardons to former aides and associates caught up in the probe, or lashing out at enemies like former FBI Director James Comey, who oversaw the prosecution of lifestyle guru Martha Stewart, whom Trump has said he is thinking of pardoning. However, that was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ordered that the Hammonds be resentenced "in compliance with the law".

A group of armed ranchers led by Ammon Bundy occupied the Malheur federal wildlife refuge in OR for 40 days in protest, claiming the federal government had overstepped its boundaries.

The pardons come as some federal employees in the rural West are wary of what they say is a high likelihood that more standoffs could develop, NPR's Kirk Siegler reports, citing soil scientists, cattle range managers, and the people who staff recreation sites. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump granted clemency to Dwight Lincoln Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven Hammond, two OR ranchers convicted of arson.

The federal government's approach to the Hammonds reflects "prosecutorial misconduct" that's evident in other cases, said Ramona Morrison, daughter of deceased Nevada rancher and "Sagebrush Rebellion" icon Wayne Hage.

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