Energy & Environment

Natural Resources Democrats seek Interior documents on bribery allegation

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) addresses reporters during a press conference on Thursday, May 19, 2022 to discuss the Puerto Rico Status Act.
Greg Nash
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) addresses reporters during a press conference on Thursday, May 19, 2022 to discuss the Puerto Rico Status Act.

Two Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee are seeking documents from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland that they say could shine line on whether President Trump offered a pardon to two people convicted of setting fires on public land because of a campaign donation.

In a letter to Haaland on Friday, Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) outlined what they said are indications that real estate developer Mike Ingram donated to a Trump-aligned super PAC in exchange for the pardons of two other men.

Attorney Lanny Davis, a representative for Ingram’s company El Dorado Holdings, denied any wrongdoing by Ingram. Davis has contributed op-eds to The Hill.

“I know Mike Ingram personally and as the head of a company I have represented – and I have no doubts about his integrity and honesty,” Davis said in a statement to The Hill.  “This allegation of a connection between Mr. Ingram’s support for a pardon, which was supported by others in the Oregon ranching community, and any political donation Mr. Ingram made is baseless – another example of innuendo accusations of a crime unsupported by facts.

Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond and his son Steven Hammond were convicted in 2012 of deliberately setting a series of fires on lands they leased from the Bureau of Land Management, shortly after allegedly illegally killing several deer on the property.

They were sentenced to five years in prison with time served in 2015, sparking outrage among many involved in conservative politics in the western U.S. Anger at the sentence was the impetus for the 40-day armed occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. 

In 2018, the letter states, an assistant to Ingram emailed the Interior Department’s senior deputy director for external and intergovernmental affairs to make the case for a pardon of the Hammonds. The subject line of the email was “Articles Mike told you about,” suggesting Ingram had been discussing the case with administration officials. Democrats on the committee have previously claimed that Ingram’s status as a donor allowed him access to high-level administration officials to lobby on issues. 

A few weeks later, then-Oregon Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a vocal backer of pardoning the Hammonds, tweeted that Trump was considering it. The following day, Ingram donated $10,000 to the pro-Trump America First Action, Inc. Super PAC, according to the letter. Trump pardoned the Hammonds eight days later.

Grijalva and Porter requested all communications pertaining to the Hammonds in 2017 and 2018 between Interior Department personnel and Ingram, representatives from Ingram’s company and representatives of the super PAC, as well as any documents relating to the pardons.

In May, the committee made its first-ever criminal referral to the Justice Department, also in a matter concerning Ingram and the Trump administration.

In that case, Porter and Grijalva raised concerns around then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt reversing himself on a clean water permit for the Villages at Vigneto, an Ingram development project, shortly after Ingram donated about $250,000 to the Republican National Committee and Trump’s reelection campaign. Davis has also denied any wrongdoing by Ingram in that case.

“The parallels between the Vigneto case and the Hammonds’ pardons raise significant concerns about another potential case of bribery under the Trump administration and warrant further investigation,” the letter states.

The Hill has reached out to the Interior Department, Walden and El Dorado Holdings for comment.

Tags Deb Haaland Dwight Hammond Greg Walden Katie Porter Lanny Davis Raul Grijalva Trump
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