The Biden administration is standing by embattled Bureau of Land Management nominee Tracy Stone-Manning even as a political bonfire builds over her involvement in a three-decades-old eco-sabotage case.
The White House remained steadfast, calling her “exceptionally qualified” after her nomination took a hit last weekend when former Obama administration BLM director Bob Abbey pulled his support, saying her “past actions will only bring needless controversy to future decisions she might make as BLM director.”
“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,” said a White House official in a Tuesday email. “She is exceptionally qualified to be the next Director of the Bureau of Land Management.”
An administration source defended Ms. Stone-Manning, who retyped, edited and mailed an anonymous letter to authorities in 1989 warning about spiked trees in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest on behalf of one of the perpetrators, a friend she called by his nickname “Spicer.”
She testified against him in the 1993 federal trial after receiving immunity from prosecution.
“Thirty years ago, Tracy testified against someone who had attempted to cause harm by spiking trees,” said the source. “She had been approached by a man with a warning letter, which she sent to the U.S. Forest Service because she did not want anyone to get hurt. She has always been honest and transparent about this matter, which has been covered by the media for decades, and ultimately testified against the responsible individual, who was convicted.”
In addition, she has “spent her adult life and career achieving cooperative solutions to western land and water challenges, and has never condoned any action that could lead to injury to anyone,” the source said.
The show of support came as Senate Republicans closed ranks against the nominee, arguing that her decision to help conceal the identities of the tree-spikers instead of immediately alerting authorities was disqualifying.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, Alaska Republican, urged President Biden to pull her nomination, arguing that “this is becoming a bipartisan issue.”
“If this nominee comes to this floor, it shouldn’t be even a close vote. It should be 100-0 rejecting her,” said Mr. Sullivan in a Monday floor speech. “And to my Democratic colleagues, I hope you join me like Mr. Bob Abbey in saying, ‘Mr. President, guess what, you screwed up here. Withdraw her.’”
He warned that there would be political consequences for those who support her nomination.
“We cannot condone, endorse or vote somebody who’s been part of an ecoterrorist radical extreme violent organization,” Mr. Sullivan said. “And my colleagues, America will be watching. You vote for her, you’ve got to go home and explain that vote to your fellow Americans.”
A withdrawal would mark another misstep for the Biden administration, which saw Office of Management and Budget pick Neera Tanden step aside in March in the face of outrage over her history of partisan tweets.
The White House also backtracked on its plan to nominate Elizabeth Klein as deputy Interior Secretary as opposition brewed over her activist past. She has since been named senior counselor to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
Ms. Stone-Manning‘s biggest backer is her former boss, Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat, who advised Democrats at their weekly Tuesday luncheon to disregard the Republican uproar, according to E&E News.
That suggestion may become increasingly difficult as the Republican din rises.
Leading the charge against her is Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, who threw down the gauntlet June 11 by declaring she “collaborated with eco-terrorists,” followed by Sen. Jim Risch, Idaho Republican, who said last week that she “conspired and participated with these tree-spikers.”
Adding his heft to the fray this week was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose office issued an alert pointing out that the Biden administration was reportedly aware of the incident before her nomination.
“Embarrassingly, the White House has admitted to the Associated Press that they knew of Stone-Manning’s past before they nominated her,” said the notification. “Why did President Biden nominate someone who ‘collaborated with eco-terrorists’ to manage our federal lands?”
It would be fair to say that the tree-spiking case was neither a secret nor common knowledge in Montana, where Ms. Stone-Manning spent her career after moving to the state to attend the University of Montana graduate school. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland, College Park.
After being named by then-Gov. Steve Bullock to head the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, she discussed the episode in a friendly February 2013 profile with the Missoulian ahead of her April hearing. She was confirmed by the Legislature.
The Montana Republican Party blasted her last week, saying that her role in the incident was “more than enough to disqualify her from leading the United States Government’s largest land management agency,” which oversees 245 million acres of federal land.
The Center for Western Priorities issued a press release Tuesday blaming the furor on Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican, who won reelection in November by defeating the Democrat Bullock, whom Ms. Stone-Manning supported.
Mr. Daines, who has said little publicly about her nomination, was the target of 2020 campaign ads by the Montana Conservation Voters, for which Ms. Stone-Manning served as a board member.
She said at her June 8 hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that she had no involvement in the ads.
“There is a stunning gap between the picture Senator Daines is trying to paint and the reality of Tracy’s 30-year career working across the political spectrum,” said Jennifer Rokala, center executive director. “If Stone-Manning was the person Senator Daines claims she is, she would never garner support from so many corners. Whether it’s mining, forestry, or conservation leaders, anyone who has worked with Tracy will tell you she is among the smartest and most honest brokers in public service.”
The liberal group released a list of statements from Montanans in the energy, ranching and logging industry singing her praises, although most of the comments were published before the tree-spiking incident drew media focus in the days after her hearing.
Whether she contains the fire or flames out may well hinge on Sen. Joe Manchin, the moderate West Virginia Democrat who chairs the committee and wields enormous power as a pivotal swing vote in the 50-50 Senate. So far he has not commented publicly on how he will vote.
No committee vote on her nomination has been scheduled.