President Donald Trump on Tuesday pardoned an Oregon rancher and his son who were jailed for arson attacks on federal land, and whose convictions triggered an armed stand-off at a wildlife refuge in 2016.
The White House said Trump had pardoned Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son Steven Hammond, 49, who were convicted in 2012 for setting fire to federal lands where they held grazing rights for their cattle.
After their lawyers argued against the five-year minimum sentence, a judge granted them much lighter terms — but federal prosecutors won an appeal and the Hammonds were required to serve the full five years.
A group of armed ranchers led by Ammon Bundy occupied the Malheur federal wildlife refuge in Oregon for 40 days in protest, claiming the federal government had overstepped its boundaries.
During the siege that gripped the nation in early 2016, one of the armed ranchers was shot dead by police while trying to drive to a nearby public meeting.
In announcing the pardons White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders dubbed the appeal from prosecutors “overzealous,” calling the sentencing “unjust.”
“At the Hammonds’ original sentencing, the judge noted that they are respected in the community and that imposing the mandatory minimum, five-year prison sentence would ‘shock the conscience’ and be ‘grossly disproportionate to the severity’ of their conduct,” she said.
“Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency,” the White House said.
The elder Hammond has served almost three years of his sentence, while his son has been incarcerated for four years.
The pardons are Trump’s latest show of wielding his presidential power to grant clemency, which critics say intends to dramatize his own complaints of being the victim of a “witch hunt” by US prosecutors.
His high-profile pardons include firebrand conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza and disgraced Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Trump also issued a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, who was sent to prison a century ago in a racially charged case.
The president has signaled that he could similarly favor lifestyle guru Martha Stewart, who went to jail for making false statements in an insider trading case, and commute the prison sentence of Rod Blagojevich, a former governor of Illinois convicted of corruption.