State Politics

Idaho’s Labrador warns of possible ‘miscarriage of justice’ in Bundy prosecutions

U.S. Congressman Raul Labrador talks during an April 2017 town hall at Meridian Middle School.
U.S. Congressman Raul Labrador talks during an April 2017 town hall at Meridian Middle School. Idaho Statesman file

In a letter earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador warned of “a strong possibility that a miscarriage of justice is being committed” in the prosecutions of Idaho men for their role in a 2014 standoff.

The Idaho Republican’s letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions followed a similar letter in late August in which Idaho lawmakers asked Sessions to halt or ease back on the cases against Ammon Bundy, of Emmett; Eric Parker, of Hailey; Scott Drexler, of Challis; and Todd Engel, of Boundary County.

More than 50 current and former members of the Idaho Legislature have added their names to the most recent version of the Aug. 29 letter provided to the Statesman. They include 46 members of the House and Senate from across the state, all Republicans — closing in on half of the Legislature’s membership. The letter’s lead author was Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley.

Bundy, Drexler, Engel and Parker were among nearly 20 defendants arrested in early 2016 as part of a nationwide roundup regarding the armed standoff against federal law enforcement officers that took place in April 2014 around Bunkerville, Nev. The federal officials had tried rounding up cattle that belonged to rancher Cliven Bundy, who had refused for years to pay grazing fees.

Three of the four men will undergo trial Oct. 10. It’ll be Drexler’s and Parker’s third trial related to the Bunkerville incident; Bundy is in custody without bail after being acquitted of charges tied to the later occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. Parker was photographed aiming his high-powered rifle at federal agents near the Bundy Ranch — you might remember the image, which went worldwide.

Engel was convicted of obstruction and traveling across state lines in aid of extortion. His sentencing was set for Sept. 28; last week the judge continued it till Dec. 22.

The Idaho lawmakers asked Sessions to “have those in charge of this case end this long enduring action and set Eric Parker and Scott Drexler free, set reasonable bail for Ammon Bundy and allow Todd Engel to use his time served as total sentencing.”

In his followup, Labrador wrote that the group raised “legitimate doubts about whether a third trial (for Parker and Drexler) is in the best interest of justice or the American taxpayers. The failure to secure guilty verdicts in two different trials with two different juries should serve as evidence of the weakness of the government’s case and should be taken into account as a third trial is contemplated.”

He asked Sessions to examine the government’s conduct toward Engel and Bundy “and take the appropriate steps to ensure that they are treated fairly,” and requested “a response in a timely manner.”

It’s unclear whether he got that response. Labrador would not comment on the matter this week. The U.S. Department of Justice also did not respond to a Statesman inquiry about the letters.

Moon said Thursday that she has not heard back from Sessions or the DOJ regarding the August letter.

Labrador is entering his final year in Congress and is running for governor in the 2018 elections.

He has two major challengers for the Republican nomination. A spokesman for Tommy Ahlquist said the Boise developer and former doctor “is a strong believer in ensuring that all Idahoans have their constitutional rights fully protected. He supports a full review of the facts to make sure justice is being served in this case and is confident that Attorney General Sessions will do the right thing.”

Lt. Gov. Brad Little did not return a request for comment Thursday afternoon.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell