The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee split along party lines during a Thursday morning vote on President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management.
Democrats on the committee unanimously backed the nominee, Tracy Stone-Manning, in the face of fierce Republican opposition over her involvement in a 1989 ecoterrorism incident and her alleged dishonesty to the committee about the incident.
“Tracy Stone-Manning collaborated with ecoterrorists. She lied to this committee, and she continues to harbor extremist views most Americans find reprehensible,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., ranking member of the committee, said before the vote. “She is thoroughly disqualified to hold the position of director of land management.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., chairman of the committee, rejected Barrasso’s argument, saying that he was unable to find any credible evidence in the trial record that Stone-Manning personally spiked any trees, conspired with ecoterrorists, or lied to his committee.
“Ms. Stone-Manning was never charged with spiking trees. She was never tried for spiking trees. And none of the men who did spike the trees ever suggested that she did. Nor was she a target in the investigation,” Manchin said, adding: “Being called to testify before a grand jury does not make someone a target of a grand jury investigation.”
Following the committee’s 10-10 vote on Stone-Manning’s confirmation, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has the option to discharge her nomination and bring it before the full Senate for a vote.
Stone-Manning is unlikely to receive any Republican support if the full chamber holds a vote. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called on Biden on Friday to withdraw her nomination because of her involvement in the 1989 ecoterrorism incident.
With the Senate split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, Stone-Manning will need Vice President Kamala Harris to break a tie if a vote is divided along party lines.
The Daily Caller News Foundation first reported the contents of an anonymous and threatening letter Stone-Manning sent to the Forest Service in 1989 on behalf of a former roommate and friend, warning that a local forest in Idaho set to be logged had been sabotaged with tree spikes, a known ecoterrorism tactic.
In May, Stone-Manning told the Senate Energy Committee in writing that she never had been the target of a federal criminal investigation, but numerous news reports, accounts of federal law enforcement officials, and statements from the nominee herself at the time of the tree-spiking incident strongly suggest she was a target of the federal government’s investigation.
Stone-Manning was among seven individuals subpoenaed in 1989 by federal law enforcement officials investigating the incident. The subpoena forced her to provide fingerprints, palm prints, handwriting samples, and hair samples to a federal grand jury, according to the Montana Kaimin.
Stone-Manning herself was quoted in a 1990 news article expressing anger at the “degrading” experience that the FBI subjected her to during its investigation.
“It was degrading. It changed my awareness of the power of the government,” Stone-Manning said. “Yes, this was happening to me and not someone in Panama. And, yes, the government does do bad things sometimes.”
The lead Forest Service investigator in the case, Michael Merkley, said in a July14 letter to the Senate Energy Committee that Stone-Manning was “extremely difficult to work with; in fact, she was the nastiest of the suspects” during the initial stages of his investigation in 1989.
“She was vulgar, antagonistic, and extremely anti-government,” Merkley said.
Merkley said he learned years later from the ex-girlfriend of someone convicted for spiking the trees that Stone-Manning was responsible for mailing the anonymous and threatening letter to the Forest Service.
Although Stone-Manning received legal immunity from prosecution in 1993 to testify against the suspects in the tree-spiking incident, Merkley said she was no hero and her refusal to cooperate with authorities in 1989 set his investigation back by years.
“Let me be clear. Ms. Stone-Manning only came forward after her attorney struck the immunity deal, and not before she was caught. At no time did she come forward of her own volition, and she was never entirely forthcoming,” Merkley wrote. “She was aware that she was being investigated in 1989 and again in 1993 when she agreed to the immunity deal with the government to avoid criminal felony prosecution. I know, because I was the special agent in charge of the investigation.”
One of the individuals convicted in the matter, John Blount, told E&E News that Stone-Manning knew of the intent to spike the local forest well in advance, but was not involved in planning or executing the mission.
Stone-Manning told local media outlets at the time of the trial that she waited until 1993 to inform federal authorities of her role in sending the letter because she was scared that Blount would threaten her life. She also said she has always denounced tree spiking.
All 10 Republican members of the Senate Energy Committee called on Biden to withdraw Stone-Manning’s nomination in a July 14 letter.
The Republican lawmakers’ letter said her involvement in the incident, as well as her “false and misleading statements” to the committee about the incident, should disqualify her from leading the Bureau of Land Management.
The White House has remained supportive of Biden’s nominee amid the blowback.
“Tracy Stone-Manning is a dedicated public servant who has years of experience and a proven track record of finding solutions and common ground when it comes to our public lands and waters,” a White House official previously told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “She is exceptionally qualified to be the next director of the Bureau of Land Management.”
Democrats on the committee said Republicans are trying to smear Stone-Manning with their fixation on the tree-spiking incident.
“The Tracy Stone-Manning I know is someone who spent the last 20 years-plus bringing people together from both sides of the aisle from all components of industry,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said, according to The New York Times.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., hailed Stone-Manning’s “spotless” career, E&E News reported.
“And [Republicans] are reaching back to her youth to try to tar and feather her, because she’s been involved in politics in Montana,” Heinrich said. “I find it pretty ironic that all of these folks who’ve effectively ignored the domestic terrorism of Jan. 6 are suddenly very interested in what happened in the 1980s.”
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