The Slatest

The News That Ryan Zinke Fired His Department’s Watchdog Is False—and It’s Ben Carson’s Fault

Ryan Zinke, the Interior Secretary, talking to reporters outside the White House
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke talks to journalists outside the White House West Wing before attending a cabinet meeting with President Donald Trump August 16, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Say what you will about the Department of Housing and Urban Development, you probably would not want its leaders planning your going-away party.

A flurry of news stories emerged this week that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke—who is the subject of a number of investigations—had fired his department’s acting inspector general. The problem: The aforementioned inspector general, Mary Kendall, was still working at Interior as of Wednesday, according to CBS News, “and has not received any indication from the White House or the department that she is being replaced.”

That’s because the story broke not from an announcement by the White House or the Interior Department but a memo leaked from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Last Friday, HUD Secretary Ben Carson told his staff in an email, “It is with mixed emotions that I announce that Suzanne Israel Tufts, our Assistant Secretary for Administration, has decided to leave HUD to become the Acting Inspector General at the Department of Interior.”

The Department of the Interior told the Washington Post, “HUD sent out an email that had 100 percent false information in it.” The Post also reported that the Interior Department hadn’t signed off on Tufts’ job change and that “Tufts … has been out of her office for at least two months but is still on the payroll.”

An Interior Department spokesperson told Bloomberg that “Tufts was referred to the Department by the White House as a potential candidate for a position in the Inspector General’s office. At the end of the day, she was not offered a job at Interior.”

A HUD spokesman told the Hill Tuesday that Tufts was being “detailed to the IG’s office” on a temporary basis and will “remain a HUD employee,” which, apparently, “happens all the time.”

Tufts was last in the news when a former HUD employee said that she was replaced by Tufts after she refused to exceed her authority in getting nicer furniture for Ben Carson’s office.

The erroneous story of the sacked inspector general took off when Outside magazine reported the news as “Ryan Zinke Has Fired the DOI Inspector General,” with the subheadline, “And replaced her with a loyalist political operative who may not need Senate confirmation.”

Regardless, the reasons for concern are legitimate. According to CBS News, the Interior Department’s inspector general currently “is conducting at least four investigations into Zinke’s activity,” ranging from his travel controversies to how national monuments are designated.