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Interior Department watchdog investigating Zinke still on the job despite rumored ouster

Posted at 11:16 AM, Oct 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-18 13:17:08-04
Ryan Zinke
US Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke of Whitefish (file photo)

The Trump administration appears set to replace the Interior Department’s independent watchdog, who is overseeing multiple investigations into Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, with a political appointee.

But the supposedly departing official still hasn’t been informed her services will no longer be needed.

A spokesperson for Acting Inspector General (IG) Mary Kendall told CBS News on Wednesday that Kendall is still on the job and has not received any indication from the White House or the department that she is being replaced.

The confusion started with an email from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson to his staff on Friday.

In the email obtained by CBS News, Carson congratulated Suzanne Israel Tufts, assistant secretary for administration at HUD, who he said would be leaving to take the job as acting IG at the Interior Department.

“I am extremely grateful to Suzanne for her service at HUD and am confident that she will thrive in her new role,” Carson said.

Tufts is a Republican lawyer who replaced a career official at HUD who refused to approve Carson’s expensive redecorations of his office.

Kendall has served in an acting capacity since 2009 and was nominated to serve as permanent IG in 2015, but the Senate never brought her nomination to the floor.

Because Kendall serves in an acting capacity, she is not afforded protection by a federal law that prohibits agency heads and the president from firing a Senate-confirmed inspector general.

The Office of the Inspector General is conducting at least four investigations into Zinke’s activity, including examinations of his travel habits, an Indian casino development in Connecticut, his involvement in a real estate deal in Whitefish, and how the department drew the boundaries for a national monument.