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Officials applaud refuge enforcement, but claim no credit

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SALEM — Oregon public officials are commending the FBI and other law enforcement for arresting protesters occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Harney County, but stopped short of crediting their pleas to the Obama administration for prompting Tuesday’s action.

Eight protesters were arrested by state and federal officials Tuesday afternoon, while a ninth was shot and killed. Officials also sealed off the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, denying remaining protesters free movement to and from the facility.

In a statement Tuesday night, Sen. Jeff Merkley linked the actions of law enforcement to requests from people in Eastern Oregon for the FBI to move against the armed occupiers. “I am pleased that the FBI has listened to the concerns of the local community and responded to the illegal activity occurring in Harney County by outside extremists,” Merkley said in a press release.

Merkley had also urged the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice to “bring this incident to an end,” Merkley’s state communications director Courtney Warner Crowell wrote in an email Wednesday.

Sen. Ron Wyden also had pushed for federal law enforcement to act. “Sen. Wyden repeatedly emphasized the need to end the standoff as swiftly and safely as possible in conversations with (U.S. Department of Justice) officials, most recently in a meeting with FBI Director Comey yesterday,” Wyden’s press secretary Keith Chu wrote in an email Wednesday.

However, Wyden and Gov. Kate Brown, who pressed President Barack Obama and other federal officials earlier this month to take action to remove occupiers from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, stopped short of drawing a connection between their calls to action and the activities of law enforcement.

“Oregonians expect their safety and the rule of law to be preserved, so I commend the FBI for moving to arrest the leaders of this illegal occupation,” Wyden said in a press release Wednesday . “It is deeply unfortunate that these militants’ actions have resulted in violence. There was an immediate threat that the occupation in Harney County would spread to nearby communities as outsiders sought to use Eastern Oregon to advance their extremist agenda.”

Brown’s staff declined to draw any connection between the governor’s letters and discussions with federal officials, and Tuesday’s enforcement actions. The governor’s communications director, Kristen Grainger, wrote in an email that Brown “had numerous phone conversations with federal officials, including the White House, between January 8th and January 26th and those conversations are likely to continue.”

Oregon’s congressional delegation was not unanimous in calling for the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice to act.

Andrew Malcolm, communications director for U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, said the congressman kept in close touch with law enforcement at all levels throughout the ordeal. “But he wasn’t urging publicly or privately action one way or the other,” Malcolm said.

Walden, a Republican, said in a press release Wednesday he had “been in close contact with local and federal officials throughout this long standoff, and we had all hoped for a peaceful conclusion to the situation in Harney County. Sadly, our hopes were shattered with the shooting that occurred during last night’s arrest.”

Walden, whose district includes Harney County, added that “when this is done and the cameras’ glare turns away from rural Oregon, the healing process will be a long one. Widespread frustration will continue until people in rural America feel like they are being heard and meaningful changes are made to federal land management policy.”

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Democrat, said Walden was the only member of Oregon’s congressional delegation who should take any position on federal actions in Harney County.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for politicians other than Greg Walden to be getting involved in Harney County,” Schrader said on Wednesday. “I think all that does is confuse the issue, politicize the issue.”

Schrader said, “the FBI’s been very measured in their response.”

The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group. Hillary Borrud can be reached at 503-364-4431 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..