The Whitehouse.gov web site changes and the Transition Plan

snapshot of archived site

Several people have tweeted about how the climate change page is no longer posted to the whitehouse.gov web site. What they’re not aware of is that this change was planned starting last October.

First of all, whitehouse.gov reflects whoever is the occupant of the White House. Unlike the EPA or Department of Labor web sites, we shouldn’t be surprised to see sweeping changes during this transition.

The National Archives and Record Administration has archived the Obama’s web pages, as well as Barack and Michelle Obama’s official POTUS and FLOTUS twitter accounts. So the pages aren’t gone. What you see now is what Trump’s team has put together during the transition. The pages specific to the tenant are going to be different.

In addition, the non-profit Archive.org has preserved the Obama whitehouse.gov web pages, in addition to all government web pages. Yes, including the climate change page.

(If you’re feeling generous, Archive.org could use a donation to help with expenses.)

This web site change is part of the transition, and not unexpected. When we should be concerned is when we see pages disappear from sites like the EPA and the Department of Labor once Trump’s cabinet members have taken over the departments.

 

Note to Trump: Clinton Emails Have Been Released

In a gentle interview with Bill O’Reilly, Trump made the following statement:

“When is she going to release her emails?” Trump asked. “Let her release her emails and I’ll release my tax returns immediately.”

Well, then, we should expect to see Trump’s tax returns any moment now.

Clinton released her email server, and thus all her emails, to the FBI months ago. The FBI has been able to discover several thousand deleted emails, which it turned over to the State Department last month. Eventually, emails determined to be State Department records and that aren’t exempt will be released to the public.

But, to all intents and purposes, Hillary Clinton has released all her emails.

If that isn’t sufficient, two separate judges have demanded that the State Department begin releasing emails responsive to their separate FOIA lawsuits in September. Emails responsive to the FOIA requests will begin to be delivered in one case, September 13, and in another, September 30. And additional emails will be delivered on a rolling basis throughout October.

However, we don’t have to wait. Yesterday, the State Department released nine pages of newly discovered emails to Judicial Watch. These emails are related to its search for Benghazi-related material.

The first email was one of the many where Clinton forwarded the email on to her assistant to print. The forwarded email was from Rick Jasculca, CEO of Jasculca Terman and Associates, sent to Huma Abedin. In it, Jasculca wrote:

Huma, I think you know how much I, and our entire family, loves Hillary as a friend. She has long been both a hero and a role model in our world.

But, it took some kind of special courage to step to the plate and take responsibility for what happened in Benghazi.

At a time where there is literally no moral or political courage being demonstrated anywhere, it seems somehow appropriate that, in the same week, both Malala and Hillary stood tall.

I have never been more proud to call Hillary a friend, and I’d appreciate it if you could share that with her.

Much love,

Grandpa Rick

The other emails echo the same theme. I’ll leave it to you all to guess why Judicial Watch hasn’t released this new FOIA production, yet.

If Trump is a man of his word, he should at least begin to turn over some of his tax records. He can start small: release his 2008 tax return now, as a show of good faith. He can then continue to release one new tax return year for every new FOIA email production.

One tax return not being audited now, and additional returns published as Clinton emails are produced. Surely a man of his word would be eager to follow through on his promise.

Clinton Emails: FOIA is not the Federal Records Act

Line of mail boxes

Update

Bloomberg is probably the only news organization expressing the same concerns I have expressed related to this FOIA lawsuit, and the Judge’s decision to allow questioning of Hillary Clinton.

The court said yes again. Here’s where the case — and the court — began to go seriously off track. A FOIA suit seeks information from the government, not from its former officials. The State Department didn’t thwart the law, surely. And even if Clinton wanted to avoid disclosing documents, that’s not an issue for the court in this FOIA case. FOIA provides for no remedies for failure to comply, other than a court order to do so.

Good stuff. But then it turns around and says, well it’s partially Clinton’s fault because she had the server.

No, it’s not Clinton’s fault. Her having private email is no different than Colin Powell having private email and probably 100s of government officials having private email. Having private email is not a valid reason for a Federal Judge violating the parameters of his duty. Or for Judicial Watch making a livelihood out of FOIA requests.

Earlier

I’m still bugged by Judge Emmett Sullivan’s recent decision in one of Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits. He should never have allowed Judicial Watch to submit written questions to Clinton.

It’s a given that Clinton will respond with yet another reply of, “It was for convenience”. Tt’s also a waste of everyone’s time. More importantly, Sullivan had no justification acceding to Judicial Watch’s demand. His decision was an abuse of judicial discretion.

There’s a great deal of confusion about what the FOIA really is, and does. Its purpose is to increase government transparency. The mechanism for doing so is a FOIA request. There are rules related to how a request is answered, what material is exempt, and timelines for a response, etc. If you’re an organization like Judicial Watch, which makes a living related to its FOIA requests, you can also sue if the government doesn’t drop everything and respond immediately.

However, the FOIA is only related to a government’s search of existing records. It has nothing to do with ensuring that records are maintained.

Clinton Was Not Involved With the FOIA Request

The only justification for allowing depositions in a FOIA lawsuit is if the Judge believes the answering organization is attempting to thwart a FOIA request. The State Department has already established it didn’t initially search Clinton’s records in response to the original request  because it didn’t have access to those records. When Clinton turned her emails over, State voluntarily agreed to re-open the FOIA lawsuit and search the newly obtained emails.

The State Department is also searching the records recently discovered by the FBI. That it didn’t do so earlier is because the new records were either deleted as personal (or inconsequential) or are records pulled from other people’s email accounts. At no time did State attempt to hide the records, or deliberately thwart an attempt to recover the documents.

To establish that State was not thwarting the FOIA request, the only appropriate people who should have been deposed were those directly related to the FOIA search.

Hillary Clinton is not involved in the State Department’s FOIA search. She’s no longer a State Department employee. And from a FOIA perspective, it doesn’t matter, at all, why she used a personal email server. Not one bit.

Clinton Did Not Violate the Federal Records Act

Now, the storage of records is related to the Federal Records Act. Did Clinton violate the Federal Records Act? No, she didn’t.

She never removed records from the State, as the emails were never stored at State. She used a personal email account, but that’s not a violation of the Act. The only individuals forbidden in using a personal email account are the President and Vice-President and their immediate staff.

And she turned the records over to State as soon as she realized she was supposed to turn the records over to State.

Again, to emphasize the point, why she used a personal email address is irrelevant, even to the Federal Records Act.

It’s All About Optics

Clinton’s lawyers could have appealed Judge Sullivan’s decision, and I strongly suspect they would have won. Of course, they didn’t because everyone would clamor, incessantly, about what does Clinton have to hide, why is she against transparency, and so on.

However, if Judge Sullivan had demanded that Clinton be deposed, then they would have appealed. Judge Sullivan likely knew this, which is why he limited Judicial Watch to written questions.

That Judge Sullivan took a less controversial approach to Judicial Watch’s request doesn’t alter the fact that the law has been abused in this case. Judicial Watch has not once in all of its depositions established that the State Department was deliberately attempting to thwart the FOIA request. There is no justification—none—for not denying Judicial Watch’s obviously politically-motivated request.

Judge Sullivan should never have granted Judicial Watch’s request. By doing so, he’s unnecessarily adding to State’s FOIA burden. And he’s arbitrarily inserting himself into this year’s Presidential election.

All of this is moot. The State Department just filed a status update, stating that it has searched the new records and found nothing related to Judicial Watch’s FOIA request.

Photo by Sam Javanrouth, used under CC License, modified by cropping

This Week with the Clinton Email Industry

Vulture flying overhead

The Freedom of Information Act was never intended to be a jobs program for lawyers.

Following up on my previous stories regarding the FOIA lawsuit related to the Clinton emails, earlier this month Judicial Watch  deposed Karin Lang, Director of Executive Secretariat Staff at State, and Ambassador Stephen Mull, currently lead coordinator for the implementation of the Iran Nuclear deal for the US.

With Ambassador Mull, we learned that he really can’t remember an email sent in 2011 related to Clinton’s Blackberry. I don’t know why not. Can’t most of us remember every email we sent five years ago?

With Director Lang, we discovered it was the viral photo of Secretary Clinton in sunglasses that sparked a discussion about Clinton’s email, but we don’t know when the discussion occurred, or with whom. She also confirmed that none of the prior Secretaries of State had a government email address, so Secretary Clinton not having one was not unusual.

In addition, in a flurry of filings demanded by Judge Emmet Sullivan, Bryan Pagliano’s lawyer filed a copy of Pagliano’s limited immunity agreement with the DOJ, as well as an argument for him being able to plead the Fifth in a civil lawsuit. The immunity agreement was filed under seal, meaning only the Judge can see it.

To paraphrase Pagliano’s lawyer, pleading the Fifth in a civil lawsuit is not only allowed, but an accepted practice if the witness had concerns about future action related to the topic at hand. Since we already know the FBI is investigating Clinton’s email server—in some regard—the lawyer asserted that Pagliano’s concerns were reasonable.

Judicial Watch filed motions disagreeing with keeping the immunity agreement under seal, as well as Pagliano having the right to plead the Fifth.

The DOJ also filed a motion about keeping the immunity agreement under seal, as it is associated with an ongoing investigation. Pagliano’s lawyers filed a motion concurring with the DOJ. They also gently reminded Judge Sullivan that the only issues pending are whether Pagliano’s deposition is videotaped and if the DOJ immunity agreement is kept sealed. Pagliaono’s right to invoke the Fifth is without question, contrary to Judicial Watch’s attempts to compel Pagliano’s testimony.

Judge Sullivan agreed, for the most part, with Pagliano. He denied Pagliano’s request not to videotape the deposition, probably because all of the videotapes are being kept confidential. But he granted Pagliano’s request to keep the immunity letter under seal. That Pagliano can plead the Fifth is a given.

Now, all of that’s behind Door Number One.

Behind Door Number Two…Another Judicial Watch Lawsuit Against State

I noticed that Judicial Watch’s filings for this case have a sort of breathless quality to them. And no wonder. While it was busy filing motions in the Honorable Judge Emmet Sullivan’s court, it was also filing motions for another FOIA lawsuit against State in another court, under the Honorable Judge Royce Lamberth.

In that case, which is based on an original FOIA request for information related to Benghazi talking points, State is exerting a greater deal of pushback against Judicial Watch’s demand for discovery, because Judicial Watch got too greedy trying to set the discovery parameters:

Now, for the first time, in its proposed reply, Judicial Watch attempts to justify these discovery requests about not just the search for records responsive to this narrow FOIA request, which sought documents within the Office of the Secretary regarding certain talking points about the Benghazi attacks, but for all searches conducted for emails related to the Benghazi attacks. Plaintiff improperly seeks discovery on topics far beyond the scope of its FOIA request, including but not limited to searches for records for the Accountability Review Board, searches in response to congressional inquiries, in preparation of Secretary Clinton’s testimony before Congress, and searches for records responsive to other much broader FOIA requests. The attempt is far too late. Notably, even this belated attempt fails to offer any actual explanation as to the need for discovery ranging far beyond the searches conducted in response to the FOIA request at issue here. Judicial Watch simply asserts, without additional explanation or the necessary attestations, that discovery about unrelated searches “go[es] to the heart” of the Court’s Order.

I believe that “go[es] to the heart” is equivalent to, “We wants it, Precious”.

But Wait…There’s More

The two lawsuits I just described aren’t the only lawsuits Judicial Watch has going related to FOIA requests. According to information in the FOIA Project, and data I pulled from PACER (the federal court system database), Judicial Watch has filed nineteen FOIA lawsuits since January 1. This is in addition to prior year lawsuits still being litigated, like the two I just mentioned. From what I’ve been able to discover, Judicial Watch has at least 17 active FOIA lawsuits in the District of Columbia federal court; the vast majority are related to the Clinton emails.

They must be on first name basis with everyone in the court. Perhaps the Judicial Watch lawyers join the federal court employees in a weekly poker game.

Judicial Watch isn’t the only organization filing these lawsuits. According to one of the motions filed by State in the Lamberth court case, there are currently sixty  FOIA lawsuits pending in court related to the Clinton emails.

Sixty. That’s enough for an entire industry made up of lawyers, legal assistants, law clerks, and FOIA researchers. Let’s hope we never have another former cabinet member run for President: the government couldn’t afford it.

Generations of Workers For One FOIA Request

The Republican National Committee has filed at least seven FOIA lawsuits related to Clinton or the Clinton emails.  The State has worked with the RNC to meet the demands in most of the lawsuits. In one, though, the State asked to have the case dismissed because, according to it, it would take generations of workers in order to meet the demand.

In this particular request, the RNC asked for all emails, to and from, for Cheryl Mills, Jacob Sullivan, Patrick Kennedy, and Bryan Pagliano. Even after the search was limited the government discovered the result would be a burden:

Even after applying the search terms and date limits (to the extent possible given
technological limitations), there remained approximately 450,000 pages of documents that are potentially responsive to the Mills, Sullivan, and Kennedy requests. To be more specific, there are about 100,000 pages potentially responsive to the Mills request, 200,000 pages potentially responsive to the Sullivan request, and 150,000 pages potentially responsive to the Kennedy request. Moreover, the State Department considers the documents responsive to these requests to be complex because they include classified documents and interagency communications that could have to be referred to other agencies for their review.  Given the Department’s current FOIA workload and the complexity of these documents, it can process about 500 pages a month, meaning it would take approximately 16-and-2/3 years to complete the review of the Mills documents, 33-and-1/3 years to finish the review of the Sullivan documents, and 25 years to wrap up the review of the Kennedy documents – or 75 years in total (without considering the requests for the Pagliano records).

Can you imagine having a job whose sole purpose is to process these email requests?

“Hey Sally, how was work yesterday?”

“Pretty good. We had four redactions.”

“Four! Wow, must have been exciting.”

“Yeah, we all went out for a beer after work to celebrate.”

At least Judicial Watch is a pro when it comes to FOIA requests. It knows to keep requests sized so they’re not rejected outright as being a burden. Still, in my opinion, and backed by data, Judicial Watch is the organization putting the most demand on State and other agencies. It’s requests are smaller, but it files new ones on a frequent basis, barely pauses for the agencies involved to process the requests, and then files a lawsuit demanding a response.

How much does this all cost?

Agencies must maintain employees who respond to FOIA requests. The State Department has had to hire at least 50 new employees, just to handle the increased number of FOIA requests. At the end of 2015, it had 21, 759 FOIA requests still pending. This, on top of the 20,000+ FOIA requests it expects to get this year, all under a 15% budget cut from Congress.

In addition, every FOIA lawsuit takes time and money, both in the courts, and in the Department of Justice, which defends the lawsuits.

Most people probably expect these costs. What they may not expect is that the government agencies may also have to foot the bill for the lawyers and legal costs of the FOIA lawsuit plaintiffs.

President George Bush signed the Open Government Act, which amended the FOIA. Among the new additions were provisions making it easier for FOIA lawsuit plaintiffs to obtain legal fees when they “substantially prevail” over the government agency. In addition, a provision also changed the funds for such fees, so that they now came directly out of the agency’s operating budget.

Even without the amendments, organizations could win legal fees for cases against government agencies. In 2004, in a lawsuit against the Department of Commerce, Judicial Watch was awarded close to $900,000. It was only on appeal that some of the award was reversed, because the Judge had awarded Judicial Watch fees for its discovery disputes with third parties who were outside of the DOC’s control.

Discovery disputes like the one related to Bryan Pagliano.

Checking into the Department of Justice records for closed FOIA cases in 2015, for the most part legal fees are not awarded. However, the government agencies still footed the bill for over 2 million in lawyer fees and court costs.

The costs associated with FOIA litigation isn’t in the attorney fees, though. It’s in the court’s time, and the DoJ’s time, and in the agencies time to make additional or expanded FOIA searches. For instance, in 2015, decisions were rendered in 36 Judicial Watch cases, but only one had court and attorney fees awarded.

Keeping Lawyers Gainfully Employed

Judicial Watch isn’t the only organization filing FOIA lawsuits but it is, by far, the most active. From every indication, this is all the organization does.

It discovers a tidbit of information, or hears of something in the newspaper, and then files multiple FOIA requests. In most cases, the agencies respond. If they don’t respond in 2-4 months, though, Judicial Watch files a lawsuit. And why not? It has a staff of lawyers, and it only costs $400.00 to file a lawsuit.

Since the majority of information it seeks is related to Democratic leaders and/or causes, Judicial Watch uses the results of its effort as fund raisers in the conservative community. And it ensures a steady stream of support by how it presents the data it finds.

As an example, the latest Judicial Watch release was related to a lawsuit seeking documents under the FOIA regarding waivers to access web email for officials in the Department of Homeland Security. Judicial Watch presents the data in the worst possible light:

Jeh Johnson and top officials at Homeland Security put the nation’s security at risk by using personal email despite significant security issues,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “And we know now security rules were bent and broken to allow many these top Homeland officials to use ‘personal’ emails to conduct government business. This new Obama administration email scandal is just getting started. If the waivers were appropriate, then they wouldn’t have been dropped like a hot potato as soon as they were discovered by the media.

When you look through the emails, though, you realize that personal email access wasn’t a nefarious plot to skirt open records laws, or undermine the security of our nation. It’s just people wanting to access their personal email via web application, because they can’t use their smartphones while on the job.

A mistake in judgement, perhaps. End of the world? Nope.

All of this—the never-ending FOIA requests and multitudes of related lawsuits, in addition to fishing-expedition discovery— is perfectly legal. It may even seem to be a goodness… except the agencies are so tied up responding to organizations like Judicial Watch that other requests, from individuals or smaller organizations without lawyers permanently ensconced at the DC court, end up waiting months, perhaps even years, for a response. And we can’t afford to file a lawsuit in order to ensure our requests go to the top of the heap.

I currently have one request into the DOJ for a lawsuit completely unrelated to Clinton’s emails. I did receive an acknowledgement of my request. However, I would surprised if I receive the documents I’m after before next year. And it’s not because the DOJ is being a slackard. It’s because of organizations that have turned the FOIA into a money machine. Organizations, like Judicial Watch.

Excerpts from Court Documents for the 2012 Cliven Bundy Court Case

Bundy's cows

Today, a Judge ordered that Cliven Bundy be held pending trial. In the request to hold Bundy, the prosecutor, Charles Groder, wrote:

Bundy is lawless and violent. He does not recognize federal courts – claiming they are illegitimate – does not recognize federal law, refuses to obey federal court orders, has already used force and violence against federal law enforcement officers while they were enforcing federal court orders, nearly causing catastrophic loss of life or injury to others. He has pledged to do so again in the future to keep federal law enforcement officers from enforcing the law against him.

The document also details one experience that BLM agents had with Bundy’s family—details that read more like Deliverance than reality.

On June 5, 2015, three civilians working on behalf of the BLM traveled to the Gold Butte region for an overnight assignment involving site surveys, which included surveying cattle troughs and other cattle-related sites. At the final site a truck came up the road at around 6:30 p.m. and parked behind the civilians’ truck, blocking them in. One female employee approached the truck and observed a man who appeared to be 50-65 and who was subsequently identified by her as Cliven Bundy, and a younger man (18-25), subsequently identified by her as Arden Bundy, in the truck. Bundy said to her in a joking manner that they had been chasing these BLM employees all day. He asked why they were there and she said they were there to camp. Bundy said they were welcome to stay and that he was there to fix a leaky pipe and then feed the cattle.

At approximately 9:00 pm that night, the employees heard a vehicle coming up the road and stop approximately 500 meters from their camp. Three gunshots or popping noises were fired in fairly rapid succession. The vehicle then drove away. At approximately 10:00 pm, a vehicle came to the same spot and again three gunshots were fired in rapid succession, which one employee understood is sometimes meant to signal danger. The employees also heard several male voices but could not make out what was being said. They could see headlights in the direction of their camp. After a few minutes, the vehicle drove away. The employees immediately packed up their camp and left Gold Butte, returning to Las Vegas after 1:30 in the morning.

No surprise that the Judge denied Cliven Bundy’s request for release pending trial.

I’ve followed the Bundy case for years. Reading through the criminal documents reminded me of the hundreds of pages of exhibits and sworn statement (now accessible at Burningbird Docs) filed in the Government’s 2012 case against Bundy. I thought I’d pick out some of the interesting bits to share.

One of the exhibits contains a map outlining the range that Bundy’s cattle roamed. Looking at it, I’m surprised they haven’t shown up in Las Vegas. They have shown up in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (NRA), at one point forcing a closure

Trespass and stray cattle have damaged or destroyed natural and cultural resources within Lake Mead NRA. In addition, trespass and stray cattle present a serious threat to public safety by roaming on public roads, causing traffic accidents, and threatening people in the Park. In the past, parts of the Park were closed because of attacks of trespass or stray cattle on people in the park. Because responding to trespass and stray cattle requires the NPS to re-direct staff and resources from other needed functions in the Park, the cattle have a significant adverse affect on Park operations. Because Cliven Bundy is the only person to have cattle within Lake Mead, I believe that damage to natural and cultural resources, the threats to public safety, and the affect on Park operations can be attributed to Mr. Bundy’s cattle.

The prosecutor’s document noted that Bundy may call himself a rancher, but is anything but.

While Bundy claims he is a cattle rancher, his ranching operation – to the extent it can be called that – is unconventional if not bizarre. Rather than manage and control his cattle, he lets them run wild on the public lands with little, if any, human interaction until such time when he traps them and hauls them off to be sold or slaughtered for his own consumption. He does not vaccinate or treat his cattle for disease; does not employ cowboys to control and herd them; does not manage or control breeding; has no knowledge of where all the cattle are located at any given time; rarely brands them before he captures them; and has to bait them into traps in order to gather them.

In the 2012 court case documents,  there are many photos of trespassing cows, including several of dead and dying cows. A Parks ranger investigation report wrote about finding a group of dead cows, the state of which contradicts the claims of a loving caretaker that Bundy and his minions have claimed to the press.

On July 09, 2008 I received a telephone call from my supervisor, U.S. Ranger Lisa Wilson. She informed me she had been advised there was a bunch of dead horses off of Gold Butte Rd., near a powerline road, on the opposite side of Gold Butte Rd. from some farms, uphill from an abandoned trailer.

I investigated and found myself on public lands, up a wash directly across the road from the Bundy Ranch, at GPS coordinates N36 42′ 55.6″ and W114 13′ 53.9″. I observed at least eleven dead cattle, including one calf and one horse. The animals were in an advanced state of decomposition; however, of the cattle, only the calf had its ears intact. Two of the cattle had colored nylon rope still around their necks.

Bundy did put in some minimal caretaking, but always on government land, which leads one to wonder whether he was caring for the cows, or making modifications that he thought would allow him some claim to the land.

He would build corrals of rusty metal and bring in tankers of water, setting them up on in protected areas. He’d leave garbage about, and also fence the areas in with barbed wire, and post No Trespassing signs. When we hear about the damage the marauders inflicted on Malheur, and compare that to the damage Bundy did to the Lake Meade area, we’re seeing a trend—a gross disrespect for anything publicly owned. A disrespect to we, the people. The occupation of Malheur was less a protest against government overreach, and more an homage to Daddy Bundy, and his megalomania. And the idiots who called themselves “militia” followed blindly along, still unaware of how badly they’ve been duped.

But to return to the documents, Bundy defended himself in the civil case. You can see his peculiar interpretation of the law in documents labeled 9, 30-32,  and 34. The government also deposed him, and he admitted he would do “whatever it takes” to prevent the government from removing the cattle.

Q. Now, let’s go back to the question. Let’s assume the federal authorities have the authorization to present themselves on land, whether you call it your ranch or the former Bunkerville Allotment, or for that matter the new trespass lands, and they’ve got the authorization in hand to remove cattle that belongs to you and they literally, physically, take the steps necessary to accomplish that right there and you’re standing by. Are you going to undertake any effort to physically stop that?

A. Yes.

Q. What efforts would that be?

A. Whatever it takes.

Q. Okay. Would that include — when you say “whatever it takes,” would that include the soliciting, the assistance of neighbors, friends, family, supporters of yours to do whatever it takes in the scenario I just described?

A. Yes.

The government captured hundreds of photos of damage and cows. The documents labeled 20 through 26 contain most of the photos, as well as the sworn statements.

The documents also detail the costs. There’s been some discussion among the media that the government hasn’t provided a detailed cost accounting for the million dollars frequently quoted. Even a casual look through the civil case documents shows us that a million dollars doesn’t even begin to cover the damages—that’s just for grazing fees and fines.

One document lists damages in one area at over $47,000. Another detailed the costs to track where the cattle were located at $91,000. (And this was only one of several investigations over the years.) Another document had a bill submitted to Bundy for unauthorized grazing and fines of close to $300,000. Yet another provided a table of costs totaling over $30,000. The one million dollars of fees and fines talked about with Bundy doesn’t even begin to approach how much this man has cost the government. And yet he wants the tax payers to pay for his lawyer, too.

The ongoing conservation work at Malheur was interrupted because of the Bundy invasion. There were  interruptions in important restoration work in the Lake Meade area, too, because of his cattle.

The implementation of this $1,000,000 restoration project in FY 2013/2014 was dependent on the removal of all unauthorized livestock from the Virgin River ACEC and adjoining areas within the Gold Butte ACECs. Smaller restoration pilot projects have shown that even when an area has been fenced to keep the cattle out of a site, the cattle still get in and destroy the restoration work. For this reason, the BLM and other outside partners are not able to invest this kind of money on a restoration project that has a high probability of being damaged or destroyed by cattle. Because of the continuing presence of trespass cattle on the public lands, this funding was reallocated to lower priority restoration areas that do not benefit the endangered SWFL, and where unauthorized livestock grazing is not an impediment to restoration activities. Those lower priority project sites will not be eligible for the Walton foundation matching funds since none of those areas are within SWFL habitat and therefore do not directly benefit the endangered SWFL.

The cows, themselves, were dangerous.  The civil case documents detail a truck/cow collision, and Bundy was sued when another  driver hit one of his cows, and was seriously hurt. Bundy tried to push the blame for that one on to the state. Due to lack of care, the cows have turned feral. Contrary to the fluffy images of cows from dairy companies, feral cows are large, can be aggressive, and have wicked horns. The cows threatened people, to the point where national park areas had to be closed to the public, for their own safety.

In all of the sworn statements by government employees attached to the civil care, we see evidence of the Bundy family’s intimidation tactics. Employees were warned, repeatedly, never to confront Bundy.  In one instance in the 2012 court documents:

While we were finishing gathering our equipment, a truck approached us from the east (we were coming from the west), stopped and parked facing our vehicle on the narrow backcountry road, leaving no room for either vehicle to get by.

An older white male stepped out of the vehicle and began to express his displeasure about the construction of the fence. Although we were on federal land and there were no private lands nearby, he referred to the Gold Butte area as his ranch and complained that the fence would interfere with feeding his cows.

He asked for our names, told us to contact the sheriff before coming to his “property” and indicated he might file a lawsuit against us. We attempted to explain, without success, that he should contact the BLM Los Vegas Field Office and that we were simply field personnel.

He abruptly ended the conversation after approximately 5 minutes then turned and headed back to the back of his pickup truck. He returned with a square box in hand that resembled salt licks we had seen at other areas in Gold Butte. He stepped over the fence and walked through the closed area where he was soon behind a small knoll and out of sight. At this point another vehicle pulled up behind us and was also waiting to get by, but neither of us could pass due to the vehicle in front of us.

For over twenty years Bundy and his family and his bully boys have destroyed critical habitat, degraded land, damaged cultural sites, and harassed and intimidated federal employees. His cows have been in car collisions, have threatened people, and have forced the government to shut down recreational areas that were supposed to be open for all. The charges against Bundy and his sons don’t even begin to cover the extent of the harm they have wrought.

I was surprised Bundy made the trip to Portland. True, it was obvious that he wasn’t happy about his sons stealing his fame, and the temptation to get in from the camera must have been great, but his own native caution should have outweighed all. This is a man who likes to lead from behind—to trigger others to do his dirty work for him when he can, preferring to leave his own particular brand of intimidation for smaller, unarmed groups. But he did travel to Portland, and he was busted. Frankly, I hope he rots in jail for the rest of his life.

In the meantime, there are over 900 cattle on government land, still causing damage, still suffering from lack of care. The BLM is hesitant to send people back into potential danger, so right now, there’s no oversight in the Gold Butte area. When the BLM does move, it will cost the government over $100,000 to remove all the cattle. I suspect, though, that the next time someone tries to stop this effort, the very capable FBI agents who handled the Malheur take-over will be nearby.