Federal investigators released a report Thursday finding “no evidence” former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke committed misconduct while rolling back the borders of a national monument in Utah.
The report comes nearly a month after Zinke left office, in part because he was the focus of an unusually high number of federal investigations for someone of his position. Zinke announced he was leaving the Trump administration in mid-December 2018.
“I love working for the President and am incredibly proud of all the good work we’ve accomplished together. However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations,” Zinke said in a statement after news broke of his resignation.
“I’ve never seen the level of anger of hated — they have threatened my wife, my family … This country needs to take a deep breath and understand we’re all Americans,” Zinke said in an interview with Fox News on Dec. 21, 2018.
The DOI inspector general began investigating Zinke after an environmental group, Western Values Project (WVP), alleged the former secretary gave preferential treatment to a Utah lawmaker when redefining the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM).
“We found no evidence that [Utah state Rep. Michael] Noel influenced the DOI’s proposed revisions to the GSENM boundaries, that Zinke or other DOI staff involved in the project were aware of Noel’s financial interest in the revised boundaries, or that they gave Noel any preferential treatment in the resulting proposed boundaries,” the IG report said.
The WVP disputed the legality of cutting back the national monuments, the process of cutting back the national monuments, and the investigation’s results after they were released.
“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” WVP executive director Chris Saeger said in a statement. “This report is incomplete and raises more questions than it provides answers … The only way to get to the bottom of the largest reduction of public land protections in U.S. history is for Interior to make public all supporting information and documentation they used in this catastrophic decision.”
Zinke is still under a number of investigations, including a potential criminal investigation involving a Montana land deal brokered roughly a decade ago.
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