Clarke cleared in land swap
WASHINGTON - A nearly two-year investigation into Bureau of Land Management Director Kathleen Clarke's role in the aborted San Rafael land exchange has cleared the Utah native of wrongdoing.
Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney initiated the investigation in August 2003 after identifying 14 meetings or contacts with parties involved in the Utah land exchange.
The discussions could have violated the recusal agreement that Clarke, who had been director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, entered into to prevent conflicts of interest.
The land exchange between the BLM and the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration was scuttled after BLM whistleblowers complained that the state was receiving land worth as much as $117 million more than it was giving up, including turning over some of the most valuable oil shale lands in the world.
In a letter earlier this month, Devaney notified Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson that the Office of Government Ethics had reviewed the report of the inspector general's findings and determined that "the information in our report did not support a conclusion that Ms. Clarke violated any rule of law, or any of the disqualifications applicable to her at the time of the meetings and contacts at issue."
"Therefore, the OIG is closing its file in this matter. No further action is anticipated," Devaney wrote.
The full report was being edited by the inspector general's office to cut out information deemed private, and it was not available Tuesday. Clarke did not return phone messages Tuesday seeking comment, but Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, a supporter of Clarke and sponsor of the land-swap legislation, was glad the inquiry was over.
"I want to see what [Devaney] says to justify the years he's kept Kathleen Clarke from doing her job," Cannon said. "The personal cost of having someone investigate and claiming and using the force of government is hard to understand until you've been through it and the treatment she has had has been wrong."
Devaney forwarded the report of his office's findings to the Office of Government Ethics in November 2004, where it languished for months. There were a series of discussions between Devaney and the office. In April, shortly after Devaney told The Tribune of his frustrations with the delays, the ethics office sent its letter.
It is unclear why Devaney's letter to Watson was not sent until this month. Devaney was out of the office Tuesday.
In 2002, then-Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt announced plans for a major land swap consolidating federal land in Utah's San Rafael Swell so President Bush could designate the area a national monument. In exchange, Utah's schools would get proceeds from development on lands acquired from the federal government.
After whistleblowers raised concerns the deal was a taxpayer rip-off, Devaney's office investigated and reported in 2003 that federal officials negotiated away valuable mineral rights and sought to conceal the exchange's actual value from Congress.
He also raised questions about Clarke's participation in meetings and briefings on the issue, even though she had committed to remove herself from department actions affecting the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
After questions were raised about the land exchange, Clarke clarified her recusal to apply specifically to matters involving Utah land exchanges.
The specific 14 meetings investigated by the inspector general's office are not clear, but there were several meetings noted on Clarke's calendars that fit the description, including meetings with the Utah BLM director, the director and lobbyist for the school trust lands, and Leavitt.