IG Replacement Announced Days After Secretary Referred to DOJ

The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General referred its investigation of Secretary Ryan Zinke to the Department of Justice mere days before Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson announced that HUD official Suzanne Tufts would be replacing Mary Kendall as Interior’s Acting Inspector General, The Hill reports.

One source is reported in The Hill describing the timing of Carson’s announcement as “incredibly circumspect,” and questioned whether the plan to replace Kendall was in reaction to Kendall’s DOJ referral. Had Tufts replaced Kendall, she would have overseen at least four known open investigations into Zinke, including the Inspector General’s ongoing investigation regarding the subject matter referred to DOJ.

The specific nature of the investigation into Zinke that was referred to the DOJ has not been made public, consistent with Inspector General policy. In October, the Inspector General released a report that said Zinke had violated departmental travel policies.

The Inspector General is also investigating allegations referred by Connecticut’s two senators and other allegations first published by Politico. In February, Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal asked the Inspector General to investigate claims that after heavy lobbying by MGM Resorts International, Zinke blocked a request from a Connecticut Native American tribe to open a casino. And in June, Politico reported that Zinke may profit from a real estate deal backed by the chairman of Halliburton, which stands to benefit from any decisions by the Department of the Interior to open public lands for oil exploration or to change drilling standards.

Shortly after Carson’s announcement that Tufts would replace Kendall, The White House said Carson was incorrect. Tufts has since resigned from HUD. Kendall, who has been the Interior Department’s Deputy Inspector General since 1999, remains Acting Inspector General, a role she has held since 2009. In that time, according to the Washington Post, Kendall has not donated to any political campaign.

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