A liberal lawyer for an Arizona real estate firm fired back at the House Natural Resources Committee over its first-ever criminal referral, blasting the committee's "false and misleading assertions" in its claims of a quid pro quo with Trump officials.
Lanny Davis, an attorney for El Dorado, the company at the center of the referral, is demanding the committee give him a public hearing to rebuff its assertions, or else he will request the House Ethics Committee to investigate it for abuse of power, violation of due process, and making dubious claims.
"Democrats have done exactly what I've been criticizing Republicans were doing for years, which is to confuse a position on the merits, on the facts in the law, which is all Mr. Ingram ever asked when he had his meetings when he made his donations," Davis told the Washington Examiner. "Instead of addressing the facts and the law, they tried to connect the dots."
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Davis describes himself as a progressive Democrat and previously worked for the Clinton administration. He is representing Arizona developer Michael Ingram, whom the committee accused of engaging in a "criminal quid pro quo" with Trump administration officials to reverse an environmental decision that stymied his development project.
Ingram, the owner of El Dorado Holdings, sought to develop the "Villages at Vigneto," a 28,000-unit housing and commercial development near the endangered San Pedro River in Benson, Arizona. But a segment of the project posed environmental concerns to endangered species, Steve Spangle, a field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, determined.
Spangle's concerns, which centered on two birds and a snake in a narrow area of the development, triggered the suspension of a key permit issued for the project. But the animals are not part of the development, Davis said.
Ingram had breakfast with then-Department of Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt on Aug. 18, 2017, and the Trump administration announced it would reassess the permit for the project on Oct. 6, 2017. The committee noted the timing of this meeting and the fact that Ingram and 12 of his associates donated $241,600 to the Republican National Committee and the Trump victory fund on the same day of the announced reevaluation.
Moreover, Spangle later said he was told a “high-level politico” wanted him to change his stance on the environmental concerns, a position Spangle no longer holds despite the statement sparking the committee's investigation, which ultimately led to the committee's letter to the Department of Justice calling for an investigation into whether criminal charges were warranted.
The committee relied on misleading innuendo and insinuations in its accusations, Davis contended, emphasizing the difference between correlation and causation and insisting the donations and meeting with Bernhardt were unrelated to the environmental reversal.
"The rooster crows and the sunrises. That doesn't mean just because one happened after the other that the rooster cause the sun to rise. Donations and political meetings occur all the time," Davis said. "For them to suggest that those donations caused a policy decision to change — that's called bribery, that's called a crime. You better have a fact. And not an insinuation. If you're going to put somebody in a headline accused of committing the crime of bribery. You better have a fact."
After the 2019 report surfaced, the Army Corps of Engineers directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct a reevaluation of concerns about endangered species in the area. The reevaluation found the three endangered species would likely not be adversely affected, according to Davis.
Davis argued he tried to be transparent with the committee, turning over key documents and even presenting redacted files on a Zoom call. He offered the committee a chance to meet with Ingram, a claim he said was omitted from the report.
"I think is the most important thing I have to say here is how different we conduct ourselves from Republicans under subpoena, who don't show up, even when it's a contempt of Congress. They still don't show up. If it's Donald Trump, he doesn't turn over documents. He doesn't think he has to follow the law. He thinks he's above the law. I wanted to show how different we are," Davis said.
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Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), who participated in the congressional investigation, maintained the criminal referral was justified because it discovered sufficient evidence of potentially corrupt behavior.
“The question before the Committee was whether sufficient evidence exists of potentially criminal behavior that further investigation by the Justice Department is warranted. The Committee determined that it did. It is my hope Mr. Ingram will cooperate fully with DOJ,” Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.