The Senate’s No. 2 Republican said Tracy Stone-Manning’s past involvement with environmental extremists should "disqualify" her from leading the Bureau of Land Management.
Meanwhile, the Montana Democrat who personally recommended his former aide for the posting told Senate colleagues at a closed-door lunch to ignore Republican efforts to upend her nomination.
Emotions are running high on both sides of the aisle in the confirmation process for BLM director. A committee vote on Stone-Manning’s nomination has not been scheduled.
And yet the finger-pointing, name-calling and accusations of foul play reached new heights yesterday on Capitol Hill — likely just one sign of how pointed the confirmation fight is about to become.
GOP attacks have escalated in the days since the resurfacing of decades-old news reports and court filings that showed Stone-Manning was, as a 23-year-old graduate student, affiliated with the controversial environmental group Earth First (E&E Daily, June 14).
Most concerning to Republicans is Stone-Manning’s involvement in a tree-spiking criminal case in which she was granted legal immunity to testify against two fellow environmentalists who outfitted hundreds of trees in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest with metal objects in order to sabotage a logging sale.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) accused her of "giving false answers to our questions" on the questionnaire she submitted to the committee in May.
In that document, obtained by E&E News, Stone-Manning, now 56, asserted that she had never been a target of a criminal investigation, explaining that she had "testified before a federal grand jury in Boise, Idaho," in 1989 "as part of an investigation into an alleged tree-spiking incident" that followed with trial testimony resulting in "the conviction of the responsible individual."
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) delivered a Senate floor speech Monday night calling for Stone-Manning’s nomination to be revoked.
"Here is something that should be very simple for all of us," he said. "No matter how young, no matter how naive, the director of the Bureau of Land Management for the United States of America should not — and I repeat, should not — have ever been involved in eco-terrorism" (E&E News PM, June 22).
By yesterday, members of Senate Republican leadership were starting to weigh in, a sign that opposition to Stone-Manning’s nomination is hardening within the party at the highest levels.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) described Stone-Manning to E&E News yesterday as a "bad nominee who should be defeated."
"The idea that you would go pound some of these nails into trees seems disqualifying on a lot of levels, and I suspect that there won’t be many on our side who think that she’s a good nominee," said Thune.
Tester seeks to rally Dems
In truth, Stone-Manning was never accused of being one of the tree-spikers. She did send a threatening, profanity-laced letter to the Forest Service in 1989 that she said was written by one of the tree-spiking suspects warning the service that the trees had been rigged with the metal spikes.
She also never contacted the service directly and did not admit to sending the letter until years later, a fact that did not sit well with Bob Abbey, former President Obama’s first BLM Director.
He told news outlets, including E&E News, earlier this week that her nomination should be withdrawn over the incident, saying, "The fact she stood by and allowed this criminal action to take place could have resulted in critical injuries or worse to career public servants who were just performing their duties" (Greenwire, June 21).
A Senate GOP leadership aide, who insisted on anonymity to speak freely, said, "I’m not aware of any other eco-terrorists who’ve successfully gone through the Senate confirmation process. It will be interesting to watch."
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) — Stone-Manning’s biggest backer in Congress — told Senate Democrats at their weekly luncheon yesterday to disregard the GOP’s attacks, several lawmakers told E&E News.
Stone-Manning’s staunchest supporters have characterized the campaign against her as being driven by political retribution. Stone-Manning is a longtime board member of Montana Conservation Voters, an advocacy group that fought hard to unseat Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines in his 2020 reelection contest against then-Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat for whom Stone-Manning has also worked.
Though Tester could not directly be reached for comment yesterday, his press office confirmed that the senator had spoken about Stone-Manning at the caucus lunch and relayed the message that "[Republicans] think she is not who she actually is."
Tester brought up Stone-Manning’s nomination at a Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing last week with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. He later expressed disappointment that Haaland, when given the opportunity, did not go further in offering support for the BLM nominee (E&E Daily, June 17).
‘Eco-terrorist’ vs. ‘a delightful personality’
Daines, meanwhile, has been relatively quiet since Stone-Manning’s nomination in April. When asked yesterday if he had decided yet on how he would vote, Daines would only say, "I’ve got some real concerns."
While fellow Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee challenged Stone-Manning to reconcile her Democratic politics with the nonpartisan obligations of BLM director, Daines asked cut-and-dried policy questions during the confirmation hearing that steered clear of any topics that could betray he harbored hard feelings from the 2020 campaign.
Freshman Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas — not Daines — was the member who asked Stone-Manning about an questionable personal loan she received from a Montana developer while a member of Tester’s staff in 2008 (E&E Daily, June 15).
Indeed, the tree-spiking incident wasn’t even mentioned in her hearing. It wasn’t until days later that GOP lawmakers began touting the information, even though it had been public for decades and Stone-Manning had previously discussed the matter in news articles and alluded to it in her committee questionnaire.
And when Republicans began making public statements about Stone-Manning’s Earth First connections, Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) was the first to be quoted about them in the press.
On Monday, Barrasso said he was unclear how and when he learned about the episode, saying only: "We’ve been looking into previous statements, past statements, current statements, looking for consistencies or inconsistencies."
Ultimately, Thune suggested yesterday that he didn’t see Stone-Manning garnering much, if any, Republican support, and that Democrats could also face political pressure to oppose her, too.
Sullivan had similar thoughts. "You’re a Democrat and you vote for her and you live in certain states, you’re gonna have a really hard time explaining that vote," he said last week. He warned that the Biden administration was preparing to "make Democrats walk the plank for a far-left extremist."
But while Abbey, Obama’s former BLM director, came out in opposition to Stone-Manning, there’s no indication so far that she is in imminent danger of losing support among Senate Democrats, even those from states that rely on the logging industry.
"Obviously, the tree-spiking is a very serious issue … you see why it’s gotten to people’s emotions," said Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), who still plans to vote for Stone-Manning. "I have not read all the details, but I think she’s someone that, when I talk to people in Montana — when I talk to Republicans — she has just a lot of supporters."
Not every Republican is embracing the anti-Stone-Manning pitch, either.
"She has a delightful personality; she’s warm; I think she’s open-minded — at the very least, is willing to listen to disagreement," said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). "So when I read the story about the BLM nominee, part of me felt sort of a heavy heart for her in that she is having to relitigate something that is so far past in her youth and seemingly long ago."
Despite all those kind words, Cramer, who doesn’t have to choose how he will vote on Stone-Manning until she gets to the Senate floor, said he remains undecided.
Reporters Scott Streater and George Cahlink contributed.