Judge throws out 2 of 5 charges against indicted FBI agent one week before trial

A federal judge Monday threw out two of the five charges against an FBI agent accused of covering up that he fired two rifle shots at the truck of Oregon refuge occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum at a roadblock in January 2016.

U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones struck one count of making a false statement and one count of obstruction of justice against W. Joseph Astarita.

The agent still faces three charges a week before his trial is scheduled to start: two other counts of making a false statement and one other count of obstruction of justice.

The disputed gunshots came as Finicum emerged from his pickup as police moved in to arrest the leaders of the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon.

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Editorial: BLM should fight wild horse suit this time, by Thomas Mitchell

The usual suspects are at it again, filing a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia demanding the court halt a plan by the Bureau of Land Management to remove all the feral horses in a 40-mile radius around Caliente.

The American Wild Horse Campaign, Western Watershed Project, The Cloud Foundation and a Beatty outdoor enthusiast are suing the BLM, saying it failed to adequately document and support its roundup decision, though what would ever be adequate for them is difficult to say.

Some of the same plaintiffs brought a similar lawsuit in 2011 over a planned removal of wild horses from Jakes Wash west of Ely, but the suit was mooted when the BLM backed down rather fight the matter.

In 2009 there were only 270 wild horses in the 900,000-acre Caliente area, but a year ago there were more than 1,700, a number the BLM deems unsustainable.

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In his first wide-ranging interview, Dwight Hammond Jr, shares his thoughts

BURNS — Three-and-a-half hours after pardoned Oregon rancher Dwight Hammond Jr. arrived home, he gathered with his wife and sons around his dining room’s large circular table and got back to business.

They hooked him into a live feed of an auction in Nevada where Hammond Ranch Inc.’s 155 calves were on the block.

Hammond could have called in to participate in the annual sale but he held back, not wanting to jerk the reins from his daughter-in-law and others who have run the family’s cattle ranch while he and his son Steven served arson sentences in federal prison.

“We’ve had to trust them. No use to question their judgment now,” the 76-year-old said later, sitting in his living room, back in his trademark Wrangler jeans, brown cowboy boots and a blue button-down shirt that matched his eyes.

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Charlottesville32 Settlement and Public Statement – George Curbelo

As the New York Light Foot Militia State Commander, I am speaking officially on behalf of myself, George Curbelo – State Commander of the New York Light Foot Militia, Christian Yingling – State Commander of the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia, Gary Sigler – State Commander of the Maryland III% People’s Militia, and the 29 other members of the 32, under the Command of the Christian Yingling and myself on August 12th 2017, who were at the unite the right rally in Charlottesville Virginia. On May 16th of 2018 we entered into a Consent Decree with the City of Charlottesville, settling the lawsuit against the above mentioned defendants. We have kept the 29 unnamed members of the 32 anonymous despite requests from the plaintiffs, the public and they will remain nameless. The 32 that stood on Market street, now known as the Charlottesville32 (C32),  remain blameless. The C32 maintained a measurable amount of peace on the 12th, were well-disciplined in a very hostile environment until they were overwhelmed, assaulted, and could only administer medical assistance to the wounded among the general public and themselves. This settlement conclusively resolves, and is final with respects to, all claims arising out of the event on August 12th 2017 between the parties. Yingling, Sigler, and myself, all felt that this settlement answered our need to protect the Charlottesville32 from any further action.

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Court papers: One state trooper thought other trooper fired disputed shot at Finicum’s truck

An Oregon state police trooper at the scene of the Jan. 26, 2016 shooting of refuge occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum told investigators that he believed another state police officer fired the shot that struck the roof of Finicum’ struck, and not an FBI agent, according to court records filed Thursday.

Yet prosecutors are asking a judge to prevent the trooper from sharing his opinion at the trial of indicted FBI Agent W. Joseph Astarita, arguing that it’s not supported by facts and based largely on speculation.

Astarita is accused of denying that he fired two shots as Finicum emerged from his pickup truck at the police roadblock on the day the FBI and state police moved in to arrest leaders of the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. One shot hit the roof of Finicum’s truck and a second missed entirely, investigators said.

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Calling to the Jurors in the Bunkerville Standoff Trial to view the hidden evidence in the case

Ammon Bundy has called to the jurors of the Bunkerville Trial to view the hidden evidence in the case.

It has been well documented that the prosecution team, led by Steven Myhre, kept vital information from the jurors, as well as Judge Navarro.

Navarro, in December 2017, declared a mistrial in the case against Cliven Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne. She specifically cited several instances of “Brady violations” from the prosecution, evidence that was not turned over to the defense which could have benefited their case.

An example of the hidden information is the knowledge of government snipers overlooking the Bundy house during the days and weeks leading up to the Bunkerville standoff in 2014.

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Reports on OSP trooper’s past shootings don’t have to be shared with indicted FBI agent

Prosecutors don’t have to share investigative records on three earlier shootings by a veteran Oregon State Police officer in the case of an indicted FBI agent, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones made that ruling Monday afternoon after a meeting in his chambers with prosecutors and defense lawyers who are preparing for FBI Agent W. Joseph Astarita’s July 24 trial.

Astarita is accused of denying that he fired two shots as Oregon occupation spokesman Robert “Lavoy” Finicum emerged from his pickup truck at a police roadblock on Jan. 26, 2016, in Harney County. That was the day the FBI and state police arrested leaders of the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. 

One shot hit the roof of Finicum’s truck and a second missed entirely, investigators said.

Astarita, a member of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team, has pleaded not guilty to three counts of making a false statement and two counts of obstruction of justice.

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Thomas Mitchell – Free speech includes the right to be silent

The right to free speech includes the right to not be compelled to speak.

That includes not being required to pay dues to a union whose political view might be different from yours, not being required to advertise abortion availability at your faith-based pregnancy counseling service, not being required to use your cake baking talent to create a special cake or your flowing arranging expertise for a gay wedding.

All of these have come down from a closely divided U.S. Supreme Court in a matter of days.

Today the court ruled that public employees could not to be forced to pay dues to unions with which they might not agree. Justice Samuel Alito writes in the 5-4 opinion:

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Mike Lee on Trump’s short list for replacing retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday, giving President Donald Trump a golden chance to cement conservative control of the high court.

The 81-year-old Kennedy said in a statement he is stepping down after more than 30 years on the court. A Republican appointee, he has held the key vote on such high-profile issues as abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, guns, campaign finance and voting rights.

Kennedy said he had informed his colleagues and Trump of his plans and that his retirement will take effect at the end of July.

Trump praised Kennedy as a man of “tremendous vision” and said his search for a new justice would begin “immediately.”

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According to Senator Mike Lee, Shooting of Unarmed Nurse Proves BLM Law Enforcement Must Go

Senator Lee is spearheading efforts in Congress to abolish increasingly militaristic and trigger-happy federal law enforcement offices. The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Office of Law Enforcement Services (OLES) is particularly odious, and many believe, has blood on its hands. From the tragic and absurd waste of life and resources Operation Cerberus Action in Utah to the Bundy Ranch raid, to shooting last week of an unarmed couple off-roading in California, BLM law enforcement is beginning to look like a frightening combination of Stasi and the Keystone Kops. That’s not mere hyperbole. Because federal OLES agents enjoy the protections of civil service status, not to mention large, insular bureaucracies to shield them from accountability, there is a seething culture within these organizations of corruption and lawlessness.

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Thomas Mitchell: Judicial bias depends on the party involved

Bias, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Earlier this year a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a decision by Reno federal Judge Robert Clive Jones involving water rights in the Walker River Basin and ordered him removed from the case, saying he was biased against the federal government’s attorneys.

“We reluctantly conclude that reassignment is appropriate here because we believe (1) that Judge Jones would have substantial difficulty putting out of his mind previously expressed views about the federal government and its attorneys, and (2) that reassignment will preserve the appearance of justice,” wrote Judge A. Wallace Tashima, noting that in two previous cases the 9th Circuit had said Jones “harbored animus toward the federal agencies” and that “the judge’s bias and prejudgment are a matter of public record …”

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Here we go again. Banks, corporations holding up gun makers in Second Amendment battle

In the wake of high-profile mass shootings, corporate America has been taking a stand against the firearms industry amid a lack of action by lawmakers on gun control. Payment processing firms are limiting transactions, Bank of America stopped providing financing to companies that make AR-style guns, and retailers like Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods imposed age restrictions on gun purchases.

The moves are lauded by gun-safety advocates but criticized by the gun industry that views them as a backhanded way of undermining the Second Amendment. Gun industry leaders see the backlash as a real threat to their industry and are coming to the conclusion that they need additional protections in Congress to prevent financial retaliation from banks.

“If a few banks say ‘No, we’re not going to give loans to gun dealers or gun manufacturers,’ all of a sudden the industry is threatened and the Second Amendment doesn’t mean much if there are no guns around,” said Michael Hammond, legal counsel for Gun Owners of America. “If you can’t make guns, if you can’t sell guns, the Second Amendment doesn’t mean much.”

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In age of Trump, evangelicals back Hof

When news broke that Hof had won the nominating contest for a state Assembly seat on June 12, evangelical pastor Victor Fuentes said he closed his eyes and prayed.

He did not ask God to deliver Nevada and the Republican Party from Hof, the thrice-divorced author of “The Art of the Pimp” who campaigned as the “Trump of Pahrump.” Although Christian groups have long rallied against the state’s legal brothel industry, Fuentes was willing to overlook Hof’s history as a champion of the flesh trade and gave thanks for his victory.

“People want to know how an evangelical can support a self-proclaimed pimp,” Fuentes said in an interview at his home in Pahrump, an unincorporated town of 36,000 people that is the largest community in the sprawling, rural district where Hof is favored to win in November’s general election.

He said the reason was simple. “We have politicians, they might speak good words, not sleep with prostitutes, be a good neighbor. But by their decisions, they have evil in their heart. Dennis Hof is not like that.”

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Bias in the media? We’re shocked! Shocked we tell you! – Thomas Mitchell

Columnist Victor Joecks noted that the media jumped all over an obscure Nye County commissioner disendorsing Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt for failing to endorse the Republican primary winner in Assembly District 36, brothel owner Dennis Hof who has been accused of sexual harassment, but totally ignored a press release two weeks ago from Republican Sen. Dean Heller accusing Democratic primary senatorial nominee Jacky Rosen of resume enhancement.

In fact, the same day’s paper carried a lengthy story about the commissioner’s disendorsement of Laxalt along with quotes from Hof about how the move might hurt Laxalt in Nye County and a prepared statement by Laxalt stating, “Adam respects the will of the voters in District 36, however, as a husband and a father of two young daughters, he has stated that he will not be supporting Mr. Hof’s campaign.”

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Lawyers for indicted FBI agent suggest a state trooper may have fired shots in question

Lawyers for an indicted FBI agent suggest in court papers that one of the state troopers who shot and killed Oregon refuge occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum may have fired  the two earlier shots at Finicum as he emerged from his truck at a police roadblock.

The trooper, a member of the state police SWAT team identified in court papers only as “Officer 1,” was involved in at least two unrelated fatal shootings of civilians before the Finicum encounter, according to lawyers for FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita.

The government has refused to provide documents to the defense about those past shootings despite repeated requests, the agent’s lawyers said. Astarita’s lawyers are now asking a judge to compel the prosecution team to release the material.

“Such evidence could potentially reveal a pattern of behavior that might shed light on what Officer 1 did on January 26, 2016, and why he may not have been truthful about that conduct in the days and weeks that followed,” defense lawyer Tyler Francis wrote in a motion filed this week in U.S. District Court in Portland.

The motion reveals a theory of Astarita’s defense lawyers intended to cast doubt on the prosecution’s contention that the FBI agent fired at Finicum and then lied about it. One of the bullets hit the roof of Finicum’s truck and the other went astray.

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Oregon refuge occupier Blaine Cooper sentenced, last of 18 convicted in armed takeover

But the judge didn’t budge. A package of material about Cooper that his lawyer submitted to the court under seal “warrants concern,” Brown said.

The judge noted that she had received an email that morning with audio attached that purportedly contained “death threats” Cooper made while in custody in Nevada. Brown said she didn’t listen to the audio, was advised not to open it and considered it hearsay.

The judge said she was aware that during the case there was a “lot of bluster coming out of Mr. Cooper, making outlandish statements.”

Shipsey said she didn’t listen to the audio either, but didn’t receive any complaints during Cooper’s custody in Nevada and listened to his recorded jail calls.

After the sentencing, former Bundy supporter Melissa Laughter, who has been an outspoken critic of the defendants, said she sent the email to the judge, suggesting Cooper receive more time behind bars. She provided a copy of the audio and email to The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Laughter said she got the audio from a 2016 Facebook post from a Bundy supporter.

The recorded jail call starts out with Cooper issuing a disclaimer that nothing he says should be considered a threat but that he’s simply “venting animosity and discontent” after learning that Mark McConnell was a government informant. McConnell was driving the Jeep with Ammon Bundy inside when Bundy was arrested.

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Prosecutors to recommend Oregon refuge occupier Blaine Cooper be sentenced to time served

Prosecutors will recommend a sentence of time served, plus three years of supervised release and that Cooper pay $7,000 in restitution, according to court documents.

The government will ask that Cooper, 38, participate in a mental health program as a condition of his release, but Cooper’s lawyer objects to that requirement.

Cooper, who pled guilty in the Oregon case in June 2016 and became a government witness at a trial against refuge occupiers Jason Patrick, Darryl Thorn and two other co-defendants in 2017, has been on pretrial release since October 2017.

“During that time he participated in a mental health assessment, and it was determined that he was not in need of any further treatment,” his attorney Krista Shipsey wrote in a sentencing memo filed this week.

Cooper has acknowledged that he agreed to cooperate with the government in the hope of reducing an earlier, recommended six-year prison sentence.  He also pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy in the Nevada case.

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