Welcome to the Bundy administration

The scofflaw rancher’s friends reach all the way to the top

Aaron Weiss
Sep 15, 2017 · 4 min read
Photo credits: Roger Stone by Lizzie Ochoa, CC BY-SA 2.0, and Cliven Bundy by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0

On Friday, Roger Stone, the infamous political operative and adviser to Donald Trump will be in Las Vegas, drumming up support for a presidential pardon of Cliven Bundy, the scofflaw rancher who is currently awaiting trial for leading an armed standoff with federal agents at his Nevada ranch.

Stone, however, is far from the only friend of the Bundy family in the Trump administration. In 2014, as Bundy’s followers were pointing rifles at law enforcement officers from the Bureau of Land Management, the future president himself told Sean Hannity, “I like him, I like his spirit, his spunk and the people that are so loyal,” adding that Cliven Bundy “ought to go out and cut a great deal.”

Now Cliven Bundy’s own lawyer could be headed for a plum job in the Trump administration — overseeing the very agency she and her former client have spent a lifetime trying to undermine. Attorney Karen Budd-Falen is rumored to be at the top of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s list to run the Bureau of Land Management.

Hatching baby desert tortoise, Wikimedia Commons

Before Cliven Bundy was a household name, Budd-Falen represented him in a lawsuit over the endangered desert tortoise. As far back as 1993, Bundy was calling efforts to protect the tortoise a “land grab.” While taxpayers reimbursed ranchers who stopped grazing their cattle on the tortoise habitat, Bundy refused, illegally letting his cattle roam across the desert landscape.

Budd-Falen went on to make a name for herself attacking the Bureau of Land Management and its employees. In 2006, she attempted to sue BLM staffers in their personal capacity using RICO, the anti-racketeering law that’s supposed to take on organized crime. As High Country News reported, Budd-Falen’s tactic would have had a chilling effect across the country: “If every federal staffer enforcing regulations could be charged as a racketeer, then no staffer would risk enforcing anything.”

Even the Bush administration called foul on that use of RICO, and the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Budd-Falen in the case.

Click to enlarge. Photo credits: Roger Stone by Lizzie Ochoa, CC BY-SA 2.0, and Cliven Bundy by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0

Now, a decade later, Budd-Falen appears to be on the inside track to run the Bureau of Land Management. If nominated and confirmed, she could well end up supervising the civil servants she once accused in court of being gangsters, as well as the federal law enforcement officers who were threatened at gunpoint by Cliven Bundy and his supporters.

Karen Budd-Falen

Budd-Falen’s disdain for the agency she may soon run is deep-seated. She likes to tell stories about how her father fought against the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), the 1976 law that governs much of BLM policy today. It’s clear from her speeches that Budd-Falen thinks FLPMA was a terrible mistake, and that the Bureau of Land Management should be in the business of giving away American public lands, not protecting them for future generations.

In a normal administration, that kind of history would disqualify someone from running a federal agency. In the Trump administration, where the EPA secretary spent his career fighting the agency, and the Energy secretary once proposed eliminating his entire department, Budd-Falen’s past appears instead to be a prerequisite.

As the Bundy standoff unfolded in 2014, Budd-Falen once again stood up for her former client, telling the Daily Caller the armed insurrection in Bunkerville was “simply a case of the government putting a rancher out of business,” adding that “the Cliven Bundy situation goes to show how American citizens react when a government has so expanded that it believes that the citizens are subservient to political power.”

With friends like Roger Stone and Karen Budd-Falen, it’s no wonder Cliven Bundy’s supporters think he may soon walk out of jail a free man.


Stories about public lands and the outdoors from the Center for Western Priorities

Aaron Weiss

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Media Director | Center for Western Priorities | Twitter: @aweiss



Stories about public lands and the outdoors from the Center for Western Priorities