Morning Canary-Interior IG ‘Temporarily’ Replaced Amid Sec Interior Zinke Probes

Office of Inspector General Department of the Interior Logo.
NBC News reported Tuesday that political appointee HUD Assistant Secretary for Administration Suzanne Tufts will replace 10 year acting Interior Inspector General Mary Kendall. “Kendall has been running the agency’s watchdog investigations and audits team of 265 employees for 10 years.” Tuft’s experience “includes working for the Trump campaign recruiting and training lawyers deployed by the Republican National Lawyers Association to watch the polls on Election Day 2016,” as was noted on her resume obtained American Oversight, a watchdog group through a FOI request, along with experience “staffing events hosted by President Donald J. Trump for Victory.”
Danielle Brian, executive director at the independent government watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, expressed concern over the move. “We are particularly worried that she’s a political appointee without any obvious government oversight experience,” Brian said, referring to Tufts. “And they are sliding her in under the radar of any Senate confirmation process to take over charged investigations into the behavior of the cabinet secretary.” NBC News; Oct 16 2018
Controversy has followed Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke since he was nominated and confirmed on March 1, 2107. Zinke was a member of Montana State legislature as a state senator and served from 2009 to 2013 then was elected US Rep for Montana’s at-large district and served 2015-March 2017. Zinke served in the Navy from 1986-2008, and was a Navy SEAL, rising to the rank of Commander. According the Washington Post Zinke is currently under four investigations.
Kendall’s office is investigating a range of actions by Zinke. They include a Montana investment deal involving land owned by a foundation connected to Zinke and his wife, as well as the department’s move to block a casino project in Connecticut proposed by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes after Zinke met with lobbyists for MGM Resorts International. The casino decision, which overruled a recommendation from the Interior Department’s staff, raised questions about whether the administration was improperly influenced by MGM’s lobbying efforts. Investigators are also probing how Zinke and his aides redrew the boundaries of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, given its impact on private property owned by a retiring state representative, Mike Noel (R). And the inspector general’s office has been looking for months into whether Interior Department officials should have allowed Zinke’s wife, Lola, a Republican Party activist and consultant, to travel with her husband on official business. Washington Post; Oct 16 2018
In an email obtained from Secretary of HUD Ben Carson announced last Friday Tuft was leaving HUD. Tuft was the political appointee who replaced Helen Foster who was the senior career HUD official who ‘first raised alarms about Sec of HUD Ben Carson’s redecorating expenses and resigned in protest last June alleging “Carson and Patenaude [HUD Deputy Secretary] demoted her and accused her of being a liar because she criticized the agency’s expenses that went toward redecorating,” saying she was put in a ‘do-nothing’ job for a year with no official duties. Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall has served in the IG of Interior in that role since 1999 and was moved to acting IG of the Department of Interior after taking over from Earl E Devaney in 2009 who left to oversee the Obama Stimulus Act in 2009. Former President Obama nominated Kendall for Inspector General, “but the Senate never voted on it.” The Washington Post reports that Kendall learned she was being replaced when a colleague “showed her Carson’s email.” “The Office of Inspector General has received no official communication about any leadership changes,” according to a DOI OIG statement from spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo. However, a spokesman for HUD said that Tuft was only going to be moved as “a temporary detail,” implying she would return to HUD, while Carson’s email said she was leaving the agency. According to the Washington Post, “The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”

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