Backlash: The BLM’s Response to Tim DeChristopher
After the story "The Trials of Bidder 70" went to press, Outside obtained several e-mails, sent between current and former officials with the BLM and the U.S. Attorney’s office, that had been requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
DeChristopher’s attorneys have long contended that the government paid special attention to his case and sought to make an example out of the activist. In the course of reporting this story, I spoke with two former high-level BLM officials who disputed this notion: Jim Caswell, director of the agency at the time of DeChristopher’s action, and Henri Bisson, former deputy director of operations. “There was no vendetta,” Bisson told me.
After the story went to press, Outside obtained several e-mails, sent between current and former officials with the BLM and the U.S. Attorney’s office, that had been requested under the Freedom of Information Act. The e-mails suggest that if there was no vendetta, government officials were at least paying extremely close attention to DeChristopher’s case. In one message, sent April 1, 2009—the day of DeChristopher’s indictment—Melodie Rydalch, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Utah, appears concerned that news of the indictment had leaked early, an error she attributes to a miscommunication with the Department of the Interior (DOI). Rydalch writes to Larry Shackelford—then the special agent in charge for the BLM in Utah—that she is “fixing to call and yell at” Interior’s public information officer and goes on to state that “I am hearing from gas and oil people in DC now.” It seems likely that this leak is the same one that reached DeChristopher’s lawyers through a reporter.
In a follow-up e-mail, Rydalch writes, “I could be wrong—but the fact that I am hearing from oil and gas lease people in DC proves it may have non-SLC [Salt Lake City] ties…His defense attorneys are spreading the word as well…hard to keep a good secret quiet, isn’t it!!” Shackelford forwards the e-mail to Selma Sierra, the former BLM Utah state director, who responds with a note that confirms the high level of interest within the BLM and DOI about the DeChristopher case. “Apparently there was discussion in DC to senior managers in the Department regarding this matter,” Sierra writes, presumably about the leak. The e-mail chains appear below.
Click here to read the email chain in a pdf.
Click here to return to the feature story, “The Trials of Bidder 70.”