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    February 12, 2019 1:01 AM EST
    WASHINGTON (AP) An independent watchdog has cleared Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke of wrongdoing when he gave a speech to a National Hockey League team owned by a campaign contributor.The Office of Special Counsel said Zinke’s June 2017 speech to the Vegas Golden Knights did not violate the Hatch Act Custom Carolina Hurricanes Jerseys , a federal law that prohibits executive branch officials from engaging in political activities. The team’s owner, Bill Foley, contributed to Zinke’s Republican congressional campaigns and to President Donald Trump’s inauguration.The special counsel also cleared Zinke in two other related complaints in which he was accused of mixing political and official business. The office investigates whistleblower complaints against the executive branch.In a May 31 letter obtained by The Associated Press, the special counsel’s office said Zinke addressed the team in his role as Interior secretary and spoke about leadership and the importance of teamwork. There’s no evidence that Zinke gave a political speech or otherwise engaged in political activity, the letter said.Zinke’s speech has drawn scrutiny because of the political contributions by the team’s owner and because Interior spent more than $12,000 on a charter flight from Nevada to Zinke’s home state of Montana for a speech the next day. Zinke has said no commercial flight was available for the late-night flight that allowed him to address the hockey team and speak to Western governors the next day in Whitefish, Montana.A spokeswoman for Zinke said the special counsel’s letter marked the second time Zinke has been cleared of wrongdoing in the Las Vegas speech. The Interior Department’s inspector general said in April that Zinke’s use of a chartered flight was reviewed and approved by department ethics officials. Still, the flight could have been avoided if Interior employees had worked with the hockey team to accommodate Zinke’s schedule, the report said.”As the inspector general pointed out Chicago Blackhawks Hoodies Womens , the secretary always works with career ethics professionals and has followed all laws, rules and regulations related to his travel,” spokeswoman Heather Swift said.But Daniel Stevens, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, an ethics watchdog group, said Zinke’s speech was clearly political. ”The truth is, Secretary Zinke charged taxpayers more than $12,000 for a charter flight so he could give a speech to the employees of one of his top campaign donors,” Stevens said.The special counsel’s office also cleared Zinke in a March 2017 trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Zinke appeared as a guest at a GOP fundraiser and posed for photos with high-end donors. Zinke’s official title was omitted from invitations to the event Chicago Blackhawks Hats Womens , and the invitation did not specify that donors who made significant contributions could pose with Zinke, the counsel’s office said.”Your activity did not violate the Hatch Act because you were not the impetus for those higher contributions,” the counsel’s office said in a letter to Zinke. The letter was signed by Erica Hamrick, deputy chief of the counsel’s Hatch Act unit.The counsel’s office also cleared Zinke in seven trips he made from March 2017 to October 2017 that mixed official and political business. Interior asked for and received proper reimbursement for political elements of each of those trips, Hamrick said.Hamrick’s letter did not address a complaint filed in March by two Democratic congressmen who said Zinke may have violated the Hatch Act at a Feb. 24 event in Pennsylvania to announce grants to clean up abandoned mining sites nationwide. State Rep. Rick Saccone, the GOP nominee for Congress in a March 13 special election, attended the event. Democrats called the location and timing of the speech suspicious. Saccone lost to Democrat Conor Lamb. Vegas Golden Knights merchandise is flying off the shelves, with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s jersey leading the way.Specific numbers weren’t immediately available Tuesday, but the NHL says the team’s overall North American sales have been very strong.”The Vegas Golden Knights are in the top five in merch sales all season Adidas Patrik Berglund Jersey ,” Nirva Milord, the NHL’s senior director of corporate communications, wrote in an email to The Canadian Press. ”Marc-Andre Fleury is tops among players in playoffs merch sales.”Last month, the NHL reported that Fleury was fourth in jersey sales behind Toronto’s Auston Matthews, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champion in Pittsburgh, was not protected by the Penguins in last year’s expansion draft. He has helped anchor the Golden Knights and gave them immediate star power.This random mix of journeymen, up-and-comers and castoffs will host the Jets in Game 3 of the Western Conference final Wednesday after teams split the first two games in Winnipeg.Cash registers have been ringing with sales of hats, hoodies Adidas Vladimir Sobotka Jersey , sweatshirts, T-shirts and jerseys adorned with the knight helmet symbol and the team’s steel grey, black, gold and red colors.Marvin Ryder, a marketing professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, points to a couple of reasons for strong sales: a lack of competition from other top sports leagues in Las Vegas; the readiness of hockey fans and youngsters to flock to new gear.But where the franchise really delivered, Ryder said, was with its powerful logo coupled with an attractive color scheme.”Whatever graphic identity team they hired Adidas Scott Wedgewood Jersey , they knocked it right out of the park,” Ryder told The Canadian Press.It helps to have a winning team, too.”Ultimately it’s how the fans embrace it,” Ryder said. ”In this case, I’m going to say it’s more about lucky. You had all the pieces, but they got them right the very first day. That’s the unusual part of the story.”Normally it takes longer for the teams to find that combination of performance and the right-looking logo that people are proud to wear. They got it right from Day One.”