Attorney General Jeff Sessions has stepped into the Bundy prosecution after Wednesday’s mistrial, ordering a third-party examination of the case in light of the latest government snafu.
“The Attorney General takes this issue very seriously and has personally directed that an expert in the Department’s discovery obligations be deployed to examine the case and advise as to the next steps,” said Ian D. Prior, principal deputy director of public affairs, in a late Wednesday statement.
The decision to intervene came after U.S. District Chief Judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial over the government’s “willful failure to disclose information” to the defense, saying it would have been “impossible” for the four co-defendants to receive a fair trial.
“Failure to turn over such evidence violates due process,” Chief Judge Navarro said in the courtroom as reported by the Arizona Republic. “A fair trial at this point is impossible.”
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and Ryan Payne of Montana have been charged with 15 felony counts stemming from the 2014 armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management at the Bundy ranch near Bunkerville.
The examination represents the first direct public intervention by the attorney general in the Nevada case, which began last year under then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.
Acting U.S. Attorney Steven W. Myhre, who oversees the prosecution, said he welcomed the input from Washington, D.C.
“We respect the ruling of the Court and take very seriously our discovery obligations,” Mr. Myhre said in a statement. “The Office welcomes the assistance of the Attorney General as we continue to evaluate the case in light of the Court’s ruling.
No deadline was given for the attorney general’s examination, but Chief Judge Navarro set a Jan. 8 hearing on defense motions to dismiss the case. The next trial is tentatively scheduled to begin Feb. 26.
Mr. Sessions has said little in public about the Bundy case. One exception came during a July 12 speech to law enforcement in Las Vegas at which he praised Mr. Myhre and insisted, “I’m not taking sides or commenting on the case,” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The trial, which involves 19 defendants spread over three tiers, has been riddled with setbacks for the prosecution, including a previous mistrial, hung juries and acquittals on lesser figures in the April 2014 armed confrontation with BLM agents.
Judge Navarro said the prosecutors had willfully failed to disclose key evidence in the case, including FBI records about surveillance and government snipers at the Bundy ranch; activity logs, law-enforcement threat assessments showing the Bundy family posed no threat of violence, and internal reports about BLM agent misconduct.
She dismissed the jury after seven weeks in the latest trial involving the second of the three tiers of co-defendants.
All four in the latest trial are considered leaders of the confrontation with the BLM, which began after agents tried to impound the ranch’s cattle following Cliven Bundy’s refusal for years to pay grazing fees in a protest over federal land management.
Ian Bartrum, professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas law school, said that some have questioned the Trump administration’s commitment to the Bundy prosecution, given that “the Bundys are very popular among the Trump base.”
“I’ve even seen some claims that US Attorney’s office has deliberately sabotaged its own prosecution,” Mr. Bartrum said in an email. “I think that is very, very unlikely — but this could be a signal that the DOJ is taking the case very seriously, in order to quell those sorts of doubters.”
On the other hand, he said, “this could foreshadow a way out for the prosecution.”
“In other words, the DOJ expert could come in, review the necessary disclosures, and conclude that the government can’t win if it turns everything over,” Mr. Bartrum said. “That would give the US Attorney cover to dismiss the case.”
The government lost its star witness earlier this year when Daniel Love, the BLM agent in charge of the Bundy operation, was fired after a federal investigation found that he misappropriated rare minerals and then told a subordinate to conceal the misconduct.
He had previously been faulted for using his position to obtain tickets to the Burning Man festival.
Larry Klayman, an attorney for Cliven Bundy, urged Mr. Sessions in a Thursday letter to order prosecutors to drop the charges and launch an ethics investigation against Mr. Myhre, his staff and “complicit FBI agents.”
“Jeff, in the interests of justice, much less fundamental fairness, it is now incumbent that you do your job,” said Mr. Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch. “To put it bluntly, the time has come to ‘take sides.’ This travesty must end now.”
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