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Trump's Public Lands Chief Hasn't Left Post Despite Judge's Order


A Trump administration official is ignoring a court order. A judge said William Perry Pendley should stop running the federal Bureau of Land Management. He's never been confirmed by the Senate as the Constitution requires. Defying both the Senate and the judge - in other words, ignoring the separation of powers - Perry has stayed. Here's NPR's Kirk Siegler.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The Bureau of Land Management regulates who gets to do what on about a tenth of all the land in the U.S. It also helps run the National Interagency Fire Center here in Boise. Normally, a bureau director stopping by for a pep talk and briefing wouldn't get much attention.


WILLIAM PERRY PENDLEY: It's an honor to be here. We've had a horrific fire season, as you all know.

SIEGLER: But in September, a federal court order removed William Perry Pendley from leading the bureau. The ruling said his 424-day appointment to the agency violates federal law and the Constitution's requirement that the Senate confirm him. So what's he doing here?


PENDLEY: I'm doing what a deputy director of policy and programs, a political appointee at the Bureau of Land Management, does, which is help run, based on the advice and instruction of the secretary.

SIEGLER: Pendley has been under fire for telling a local reporter in Wyoming that he's still running the bureau. And yesterday, he often went out of his way to point out that he's not the acting director despite a federal judge ruling he was. That court order also says any public lands decision he signed off on is void. The administration disagrees and says it will appeal.


PENDLEY: I've never been acting director. And folks, I hope you could all get that right. If you'd write that down - I've never been acting director.

SIEGLER: This conflicts with the bureau's own Twitter feed, which called him that at times, as did numerous administration documents. Montana Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat and former attorney general, filed the suit that removed Pendley from the top post.

STEVE BULLOCK: At the end of the day, you know, if he's not the acting director, both before and the way he's acting now, I mean, we're living in "Alice In Wonderland."

SIEGLER: Bullock is in a tight U.S. Senate race, which has led to charges by Republicans that this court battle is political. But Pendley's past advocating for selling off U.S. public lands is also seen as one of the reasons why his nomination never moved forward.

BULLOCK: We could go back. Twenty years ago, William Perry Pendley sued to get rid of our stream access rights in Montana. You know, we can talk about whether he's qualified, someone that has literally said the Founding Fathers never intended the federal government to hold public lands.

SIEGLER: With Election Day three weeks out, the administration has not yet given a timeline for its appeal. Meantime, early voting has already begun in Montana, where the lawsuit could give a boost to Bullock's bid for the U.S. Senate.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Boise.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.