The GOP chairman overseeing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) says the agency is partly to blame for the failure of the prosecution against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who heads the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a letter that he wants Trump administration leaders to investigate what he sees as major problems in the BLM’s enforcement programs that led to the Bundy mistrial, including withholding evidence.
The Justice Department was responsible for prosecuting Bundy, his sons and other militia members involved in the 2014 armed standoff that stemmed from Bundy illegally grazing his cattle on BLM land for years and racking up fines.
But the BLM also played a major role in the alleged prosecutorial misconduct in the Nevada case, including withheld evidence. A judge dismissed the case with prejudice this week, meaning prosecutors cannot easily bring the case back to court.
“The failures of the Bundy case and previous cases display serious misconduct by BLM law enforcement officials, and strongly suggest that there are systemic issues within BLM’s law enforcement operations,” Bishop and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) wrote in a letter Wednesday to BLM Acting Director Brian Steed.
“Previous Department of the Interior Office of the Inspector General reports, as well as whistleblower accounts, detail a litany of law enforcement problems from poor evidence handling procedures to a lack of professionalism, and even the deliberate withholding of information from Congress.”
Bishop and Westerman linked the case to the high-profile death of Kate Steinle, whose killing in San Francisco by an immigrant in the U.S. illegally fueled anger against so-called sanctuary cities that don’t hold such immigrants in custody for federal officials to deport.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexican national accused but ultimately acquitted in Steinle’s death, stole the gun in the case from a BLM officer.
“Rather than facing disciplinary action, the BLM officer whose gun was stolen was promoted to a supervisory role,” Bishop and Westerman said.