California resident who outed FBI informants in refuge takeover appears before federal judge

Gary Hunt, 71, of California, came to the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse in downtown Portland Tuesday to defend his right to publish details about FBI informants involved in the investigation of the 2016 armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. (Maxine Bernstein |Oregonian)

By Maxine Bernstein | The Oregonian/OregonLive | May 09, 2017 at 6:00 PM

A federal judge Tuesday directed prosecutors to lay out their case in writing to support their argument that California resident Gary Hunt knowingly violated a court protective order by posting the names of informants who helped the FBI during the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown also asked the government to address the “efficacy” of pursuing a contempt of court ruling, considering that Hunt already has spent seven days in jail and some of the FBI informants’ names came out during the course of two federal conspiracy trials stemming from the 41-day refuge occupation last year.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Pam Holsinger argued that it was Hunt’s intent to aid the defendants in the case by outing the FBI informants online so they could be called as witnesses during the trials.

She quoted from one of his website postings from March: “There can be little doubt that the defendants in the Ammon Bundy, et al., Group 2 trial, currently being heard in Portland, Oregon, have benefitted as a consequence of what I have published.  They have subpoenaed, to the best of my knowledge, Will Kullman, and Allen Varner, to testify.  So, they have been aided, though not abetted, by my articles.”

Holsinger pointed out that Hunt was in Burns during the refuge takeover and at the refuge on Jan. 28, 2016. He  was a member of the advisory board of Operation Mutual Defense, a network of militias and supporters founded by Ryan Payne, one of the refuge occupation’s organizers who has pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge.

“This defendant is directly tied to this criminal case,” Holsinger said. “There’s no other place to appropriately enforce this protective order.”

But Hunt and his lawyer, Michael Rose, have argued that the federal court in Oregon doesn’t have authority over him, nor did the initial protective order that prohibited parties in the case or their defense teams from distributing or publicizing documents on the unnamed FBI informants. The documents were turned over to defense lawyers as part of trial discovery.

“The fact he wound up with discovery documents doesn’t indicate how he got them,” Rose told the court.  “His interest is in transparency … shining the light on what the government does and how it does it.”

The presence of nine informants on the eastern Oregon refuge during the occupation in the winter of 2016, as well as six other informants who worked on the case for the FBI , came out during testimony in the first trial of occupation leaders.

Rose said Hunt’s writings posted on his “Outpost of Freedom” blog all occurred in California, where Hunt lives.

“There is no admissible evidence in the record that Mr. Hunt obtained any information from anyone who was bound by the terms of the protective order, and there is nothing to suggest that he aided or abetted anything or anyone else in any other relevant regard,” Rose wrote in a memo.

How Hunt got the documents isn’t important at this point, the judge said.  The government must show that he knowingly violated a court protective order and that his intention was to help the defendants in the refuge takeover trials.

The protective orders were issued to protect the identities of the informants and protect them “from the risks of threats and intimidation,” Brown said.

Hunt was arrested in late March on a warrant that Brown signed after he skipped a hearing to explain why he shouldn’t be held in civil contempt of her court order that demanded he remove his online articles identifying informants by name.  He spent a week in the Sacramento jail.

“At no time was I ever employed by or working for or with any of the attorneys in the case,” Hunt wrote in a signed declaration filed this week in federal court.

Once the judge obtains further legal filings, she’ll schedule a hearing to determine if she has jurisdiction over Hunt and whether he should be held in contempt of court.

After court, Hunt said he was pleased with the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing. He said he believes the judge is being fair, putting the burden on the government to prove its case before she makes any rulings.

— Maxine Bernstein

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Posted in Court, Gary Hunt, Maulher, News, The Oregonian.

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