President Trump on Tuesday pardoned a pair of Oregon cattle ranchers who had been serving out sentences for arson on federal land — sentences that set off an armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in 2016.
Dwight L. Hammond, now 76, and his son, Steven D. Hammond, 49, became a cause célèbre that inspired an antigovernment group’s battle with the federal government over its control of rural land in Oregon. The occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge resulted in the death of a rancher from Arizona.
The Hammonds have a long history of conflict with the federal government, but many felt their sentences for arson were unfair.
“The Hammonds are multigeneration cattle ranchers in Oregon imprisoned in connection with a fire that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. “The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges.”
The pardons will shave some time off the Hammonds’ five-year sentences — Dwight Hammond has served three years and Steven Hammond has served four. But the pardons appear to represent the Trump administration’s support of ranchers in the battle over federal lands and also undo an Obama administration appeal to impose longer sentences for the Hammonds.
The Hammonds served time in prison and were released, but a federal appeals court ruled that they had been improperly sentenced and ordered them to serve more time. The Hammonds surrendered to federal authorities in January 2016. Their lawyers called on then-President Barack Obama to grant clemency, arguing that the five-year sentences were excessive.
“The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community, and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West,” Ms. Sanders said in the statement, which was issued while Mr. Trump was en route to Brussels for a NATO meeting. “Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these grants of executive clemency.”
The Hammonds are the sixth and seventh people to receive pardons from Mr. Trump. In all his pardons, Mr. Trump bypassed the typical process for granting pardons (a five-year waiting period for pardon requests to be made to the Department of Justice) and passed over the more than 10,000 pardon and clemency applications. But the president has the power to pardon anyone sentenced to a federal offense.
Julie Turkewitz reported from Denver. Emily Cochrane contributed reporting from Washington.