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Presidential pardon involving Oregon rancher hits close to home

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SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) –  Two different messages in two days are sending mixed signals to the public.

Monday, the U.S. Attorney was satisfied that William Keebler of Tooele got 25 months in jail for attempting to set a federal building on fire.

“We can have deeply held political beliefs and disagreements with the government,” said John Huber, the U.S. attorney.  “But we cannot then conspire and plan out criminal acts and intentions.”

But Keebler was released from jail because he was credited with time served.

Tuesday, President Donald Trump issued a pardon on another case involving the federal government and an Oregon rancher and his son. The Hammonds were imprisoned for setting fires on federal lands.  The president called it an “overreach” by the federal government.

A spokesperson from the U.S. Attorney’s Office had no comment as to whether the pardon undermines the work of federal prosecutors.  But others see the president as the one “overstepping.”

“We think its outrageous,” said Stephen Bloch, the legal counsel for the Souther Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “The Hammonds were convicted by a jury, sentenced according to federal law and the actions by the president really throw up in the air the question of how much the rule of law applies on our federal lands.”

In 2014, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy was inspired by the Hammonds and staged his own standoff with the federal government.  His charges were later dismissed.

Bundy is a member of the Independent American Party whose members in Utah praised the president.

“The constitution lays out, gives the president the ability to pardon citizenry when the courts get it wrong and frankly the courts of law got it wrong up in Oregon,” said Jason Christensen.

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman served 10-days in jail for leading an ATV protest ride on federal land.  He says the pardons should be seen as a  clear message.

“I was thrilled that President Trump has pardoned the Hammonds,” Lyman said.  “Maybe there really are some bad actors in the BLM and the Federal Bureau of Investigation that warrant a review of some of these convictions.

Lyman said his case is one of those.  In fact, he acknowledged that others are pushing the white house to overturn his federal conviction.
there are some people who are working on that on my behalf,” said Lyman.  

“Mine was a political conviction witch hunt motivated by the environmentalist groups in collusion with the BLM.”

But SUWA legal counsel Stephen Bloch said the rule of law applies to everyone.  He used the case of Timothy DeChristopher as an example where the same BLM and the U.S. Attorney applied the same law to the environmental activist.  DeChristopher was sentenced to 21 months in prison for offering bogus bids during a BLM oil and gas lease auction.

“I think it (pardon) calls into question whether people are going to be held into account when they don’t follow the law,” Bloch said.  “And it really seems like they’re playing favorites. The Hammonds, similar to the Bundys, similar to Phil Lyman in San Juan County were all people who flaunted federal law.”

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