APNewsBreak: Watchdog clears Zinke in Utah monument probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — An internal watchdog has cleared Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke of wrongdoing following a complaint that he redrew the boundaries of a national monument in Utah to benefit a state lawmaker and political ally.

The Interior Department's office of inspector general says it found no evidence that Zinke gave veteran state Rep. Mike Noel preferential treatment in shrinking the boundaries of Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Noel, who publicly pushed for the monument to be redrawn, owns land near the monument site, including a 40-acre parcel that was surrounded by the monument but now is outside its boundaries.

The report says investigators found no evidence that Zinke or other department officials knew of Noel's financial interest in the revised boundaries or gave him preferential treatment. Noel, an outspoken critic of federal land management, is retiring next month after 16 years in the legislature.

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KATAHDIN WOODS AND WATERS NATIONAL MONUMENT, ME - JUNE 14: With Mount Katahdin in the background, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke talks to the media during a tour of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Zinke was touring the monument because it is one of dozens of monuments up for review under an executive order from President Trump. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a boat to Georges Island, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is interviewed by Reuters, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (L) high fives National Park Service Ranger Beth Jackendoff on his National Monuments review visiting sites around Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke waits to take the stage with President Donald Trump for his on infrastructure improvements, at the Department of Transportation in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (C) talks to National Park Service Rangers, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: Ryan Zinke visits SiriusXM Studios on September 12, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)
SHANKSVILLE, PA - SEPTEMBER 10: Visitors listen to US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke at the groundbreaking of the Tower Of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial on the 16th Anniversary ceremony of the September 11th terrorist attacks, September 10, 2017 in Shanksville, PA. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field outside Shanksville, PA with 40 passengers and 4 hijackers aboard on September 11, 2001. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on June 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on U.S. President Donald Trump's proposed FY2018 budget request for the Interior Department. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on the department's FY2018 budget request on June 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
KATAHDIN WOODS AND WATERS NATIONAL MONUMENT, ME - JUNE 14: With Mount Katahdin in the background, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, talks with Lucas St. Clair, right, during a tour of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Zinke was touring the monument because it is one of dozens of monuments up for review under an executive order from President Trump. St. Clair's family gifted the land for the monument. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on the department's FY2018 budget request on June 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
MILLINOCKET, ME - JUNE 15: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks with members of the Katahdin Chamber of Commerce and Millinocket town council during a breakfast at Twin Pines Lodge in Millinocket on Thursday, June 14, 2017. Zinke is in Maine for a review of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, one of over two dozen reviews ordered by President Trump. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke listens while US President Donald Trump speaks at the US Department of Transportation June 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump visit of the Transportation Department is part of a White House push to overhaul America's infrastructure. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Associated Press obtained a summary of the report, which has not been released publicly.

Noel, a Republican, was on stage in Salt Lake City with President Donald Trump last December when Trump announced he was shrinking Grand Staircase and another Utah monument, Bears Ears National Monument.

The monuments were among four that Trump targeted for cutbacks to reverse what Trump calls overreach by Democratic presidents to protect federally controlled land. The other two monuments, in Oregon and Nevada, remain intact despite Trump's promise to shrink them.

A spokeswoman for Zinke told the AP that the report "shows exactly what the secretary's office has known all along — that the monument boundaries were adjusted in accordance with all rules, regulations and laws."

The report "is also the latest example of political opponents and special interest groups ginning up fake and misleading stories, only to be proven false after expensive and time consuming inquiries by the IG's office," spokeswoman Heather Swift said in a statement.

Zinke faces other investigations, including one centered on a Montana land deal involving a foundation he created and the chairman of energy giant Halliburton, which does significant business with the Interior Department.

Investigators also are reviewing Zinke's decision to block two tribes from opening a casino in Connecticut and a complaint that he reassigned a former Interior official in retaliation for criticizing Zinke.

At least one complaint has been referred to the Justice Department.

Zinke has denied wrongdoing and told the AP this month that he's "100 percent confident" he will be cleared of all ethics allegations.

Trump has said he does not plan to fire Zinke, but said he would "look into any complaints."

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