Washington, D.C. – House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Katie Porter (D-Calif.) today sent a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Deb Haaland requesting documents regarding a second incident of potential bribery between senior officials in the Trump administration and real estate developer Mike Ingram. Previously, the lawmakers sent the Committee’s first-ever criminal referral to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) alleging potential bribery regarding a Trump administration decision about Ingram’s proposed real estate development, the Villages at Vigneto in Benson, Arizona.
The full letter to DOI is available here.
In their letter, Chair Grijalva and Rep. Porter describe evidence that Ingram, a businessman with unique access to high-ranking Trump administration officials, may have unduly influenced former President Trump’s decision to pardon convicted public lands arsonists Dwight and Steven Hammond in exchange for a sizeable donation to a pro-Trump Super PAC.
The letter lays out the following timeline of events:
- May 25, 2018 – Ingram’s executive assistant sends an email to Ben Cassidy, DOI’s Senior Deputy Director for External and Intergovernmental Affairs, with two articles arguing for pardons for the Hammonds, including an op-ed by Trump-era Bureau of Land Management Director William Perry Pendley.
- July 1, 2018 – A proponent for pardoning the Hammonds tweets that President Trump is “seriously considering a pardon.
- July 2, 2018 – Ingram makes a $10,000 out-of-cycle donation to the America First Action, Inc. Super PAC.
- July 10, 2018 – President Trump pardons the Hammonds.
Ingram’s only other $10,000 donation during the 2017–2018 non-presidential election cycle was the donation that triggered the Committee’s investigation into—and subsequent criminal referral about—the Villages at Vigneto development. As the letter points out, “The parallels between the Vigneto case and the Hammonds’ pardons raise significant concerns about another potential case of bribery under the Trump administration and warrant further investigation.”
Background on the Villages at Vigneto Criminal Referral
On May 11, 2022, after a years-long investigation, Chair Grijalva and Rep. Porter sent the Committee’s first-ever criminal referral to DOJ outlining evidence of potential bribery between Trump administration officials, including then-DOI Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, and Ingram regarding the Villages at Vigneto (Vigneto) real estate development.
The Committee’s investigation began in April 2019 when the Arizona Daily Star reported that Steve Spangle, a now-retired Field Supervisor at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Arizona office, claimed he was directed by a “high level politico” to reverse the agency’s decision about Vigneto in late 2017. Later reporting revealed that then–DOI Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt was the “politico.”
The investigation found that—shortly after holding a secret breakfast meeting with Dep. Secretary Bernhardt—Ingram and 12 other individuals, many of whom maintained personal or professional relationships with him, donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the Trump Victory Fund and the Republican National Committee. All of the donations occurred on or near Oct. 6, 2017, the same day that a major federal action regarding Vigneto was made in Ingram’s favor.
Weeks later, on Oct. 26, 2017, Spangle officially reversed FWS’ decision on Vigneto, marking the final greenlight for the development.
Concurrent with standard practice, DOJ has not yet commented on whether they have pursued the investigation.