Two Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee are seeking all documents connected to a suspected bribery pardon scheme allegedly involving a Donald Trump-aligned super PAC and the freeing of arsonist ranchers connected to a renegade group that occupied federal lands.
The circumstances “raise significant concerns” about a “potential case of bribery under the Trump administration,” Natural Resources chair Raúl Grijalva and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) said in a letter Friday to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
They’re seeking all documents related to the pardons of father-and-son ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond.
The Hammonds were convicted in 2012 of setting fires on public lands they had leased after illegally killing deer on the land. Their five-year sentence for arson in 2015 triggered right-wing protests, including a 40-day armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon led by militant rancher brothers Ryan and Ammon Bundy.
Grijalva and Porter believe the men were pardoned because real estate developer Mike Ingram gave $10,000 to Trump’s super PAC America First Action Inc., which backed Trump’s failed reelection campaign.
A Republican lawmaker reportedly told Ingram that Trump was “seriously considering” the developer’s request to the Interior Department in 2018 that the men be pardoned. The following day, Ingram made the $10,000 donation to the PAC, and Trump pardoned the men eight days later, the lawmakers noted in their letter Friday.
Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, denounced the pardon at the time and said Trump had “once again sided with lawless extremists who believe that public land does not belong to all Americans.”
Despite the Hammonds’ record of violence, David Bernhardt, an interior secretary in the Trump administration, granted them a new grazing permit on Trump’s last day in office. The permit would have allowed the ranchers to use public land for their livestock for 10 years. But the decision was rescinded by the Biden administration.
Ingram and other individuals linked to the developer also donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the Trump Victory Fund and the Republican National Committee in 2017 shortly before a clean water permit was approved for an Ingram development in Arizona by Bernhardt.
“The parallels between the [Arizona development case] and the Hammonds’ pardons raise significant concerns about another potential case of bribery under the Trump administration and warrant further investigation,” Grijalva and Porter noted in their letter.
An attorney for Ingram denied any wrongdoing by his client.