The Biden administration’s pick to lead the Bureau of Land Management said she felt she had sufficiently warned authorities of a potentially life-threatening incident in the 1980s to sabotage a logging operation in Idaho.
In her long-awaited written responses to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee released yesterday, Tracy Stone-Manning said that when she sent a threatening letter to the U.S. Forest Service telling them of a plot to spike trees in an Idaho forest, she wasn’t sure whether the two acquaintances who convinced her to send the letter had done what they said they did.
“Although they were boastful and convincing as they handed me the letter, I did not actually know if they had done what the letter described,” Stone-Manning said in a 57-page response to questions. “At the time, I believed that I was notifying the authorities by sending the letter.”
She also acknowledged acting as a spokesperson for a radical environmentalist group and a guest editor of the group’s newsletter.
A committee vote on her nomination could come as early as next week, where Republicans will oppose her as a bloc: They all signed a letter yesterday calling on Biden to withdraw Stone-Manning’s nomination.
And in advance of that expected partisan showdown, the controversy over Stone-Manning’s past has drawn in Republican leadership and raised tensions between both her home-state senators: Republican Steve Daines and Democrat Jon Tester, of Montana.
Daines, after weeks of refusing to say how he’d vote on her nomination, told reporters yesterday he would oppose Stone-Manning — a decision he characterized as the culmination of a deeply considered thought process amid accusations he has been trying to derail the nominee from the very beginning.
“Hell no,” said Tester when asked whether he was surprised to learn Daines would oppose her. “That is not a shock.”
Tester, Stone-Manning’s former boss who personally recommended her to the Biden administration for the BLM posting, told E&E News that Daines “has been working to get her defeated for months,” and that it was “ridiculous” for Daines to suggest, as he had, that he arrived at his decision “recently.”
Daines denied that he had a hand in the opposition to Stone-Manning, saying yesterday that he’d “always had concerns” but was ultimately moved to a decision by “the facts” and “new evidence that’s come out.”
He was referring to the additional information that has emerged surrounding the decades-old case that has long been a matter of public record in Montana. In the case, Stone-Manning agreed to testify — in exchange for immunity — against the two radical environmental activists who spiked trees in the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho.
Daines said he and his staff had done “a careful job of doing our due diligence and giving her a fair chance, asking thorough questions I asked at the hearing, and my 30-minute meeting I had with her, one-on-one.”
Still, Daines has been a presence hovering over Stone-Manning’s confirmation process. At the time of her confirmation hearing before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on June 8, Republican members sharply questioned whether Stone-Manning could be trusted to work on a bipartisan basis given how hard she’d worked to defeat Daines in his 2020 reelection bid.
Daines last year was running against then-Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, for whom Stone-Manning had worked for years. Stone-Manning, currently the senior adviser for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation, is also a longtime board member of Montana Conservation Voters, which pilloried Daines’ environmental record during the campaign.
On April 14, as news broke she’d be nominated to run BLM, a Daines spokesperson noted in an email that it was concerning for President Biden to choose someone associated with a “dark money, partisan group” — a description of MCV.
It was only after the confirmation hearing’s conclusion that Senate Republicans began to rehash the tree-spiking case, calling Stone-Manning an “eco-terrorist” who was unfit to lead the federal agency.
Late yesterday afternoon, Daines joined the nine other GOP members on the ENR Committee in calling on Biden to withdraw Stone-Manning’s nomination, with the lawmakers arguing in part that she had made “false and misleading” statements in her committee questionnaire in efforts to characterize her involvement with the tree-spiking episode.
In a statement to E&E News, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also made clear he wanted Stone-Manning to be withdrawn.
“We agree with the Biden Administration official who characterized this nomination of a ecoterrorist sympathizer as a ‘massive vetting failure,’” a McConnell spokesman said yesterday, referring to a recent NBC News report. “The Administration should take the obvious and appropriate next step and withdraw her nomination.”
On Monday, McConnell’s communications war room blasted out a lengthy email of damning clips against Stone-Manning to paint her as a “radical.”
Questions and answers
Senators have been waiting more than a month for Stone-Manning to submit her responses to “questions for the record,” or QFRs, which have to be received before the committee of jurisdiction can schedule a markup to vote on the nominee.
The delay came amid questions swirling around Stone-Manning, and it was not just limited to the tree-spiking case. Republicans also wanted to know about the circumstances of a personal loan she’d received in 2008 from a Montana developer while she was working for Tester.
Her answers to senators’ questions on both fronts are unlikely to satisfy GOP concerns — especially not those of Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso, the ranking member of the committee, who asked on July 10 that Stone-Manning also respond to an additional 39 pages of supplementary questions. It doesn’t appear that she will be entertaining that request.
In the first, official packet of QFRs, Barrasso sought to compel Stone-Manning to remember very specific details about her involvement with Earth First, the radical environmental group involved in the tree-spiking expedition.
“Just as I don’t recall many of the courses I took or the professors I had at the University of Montana 30 years ago, I don’t recall details of who I may have been acquainted with or what activities we engaged in then,” said Stone-Manning. “What follows is the best of my recollection.”
Stone-Manning said she never worked or Earth First in a paid capacity, but “assisted with the design and layout for a single issue of Earth First! The Radical Environmental Journal, substituting temporarily for some people who had been in a car accident and was listed as an editor on that issue.”
She also “recall[ed]” being “a spokesperson and copy editor for various events or rallies on campus.”
As for the tree-spiking episode, Stone-Manning described being handed a threatening letter that she would later send to authorities, warning them not to proceed with the logging operation or risk their personal safety.
She insisted several times she thought she was doing the right thing by sending the letter, which she copied with a rented typewriter before sending to the Forest Service to avoid having her handwriting identified.
Asked to provide “any and all documents associated with your testimony before the federal court” during the trial of the alleged tree-spikers, including “court testimony” and the “agreement for immunity from the prosecution,” Stone-Manning replied, “I do not have any of these documents from thirty years ago.”
Stone-Manning also downplayed her association with one of the perpetrators with whom she was reported to have shared a home, saying she could not recall whether he was living full-time or temporarily at the group house where she was staying while she looked for a permanent arrangement.
“I recall being disturbed with the whole situation and frightened of him,” Stone-Manning said of the associate. “I wanted nothing to do with it and did not want anyone to get hurt.”
Regarding the loan, Stone-Manning defended the exchange of money as help from a friend, Montana developer Stuart Goldberg. She said the 2008 Great Recession had put her husband’s “stereo and home theater store … in difficult financial shape.”
Stone-Manning has been accused of accepting what could be an “impermissible gift” from a political donor of Tester’s, and that she accepted it below the standard interest rate at the time to save tens of thousands of dollars in annual interest payments.
In responding to the written questions, she denied having engaged in any improper dealings, describing a close relationship with Goldberg to the point of having officiated his wedding in 2007.
She has repaid the loan, she stated. She didn’t consult with the Senate Ethics Committee at the time of accepting the money because she didn’t consider it a gift.
Stone-Manning wrote that she has no documentation of the transaction.
“The arrangements were made verbally and payments were made electronically,” she said.
Reporter Jennifer Yachnin contributed.