Trump official won’t be new Interior watchdog, agency says

Trump official won’t be new Interior watchdog, agency says
© HUD

A top Trump political appointee from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is not going to take over as the Interior Department's top watchdog, Interior said, contradicting HUD Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonTop Trump official resigned over White House plan to withhold disaster-relief funds from Puerto Rico: report Trump taps Commerce watchdog to be new Interior inspector general DOJ probing whether Zinke lied to Interior investigators: report MORE.

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said Thursday that Carson was wrong last week when he told staff that Suzanne Israel Tufts, HUD’s assistant secretary for administration, will become Interior’s acting inspector general.

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The Hill first broke the news after obtaining the email which was further cited in numerous news reports, and was confirmed at the time by HUD spokesman Jereon Brown.

“HUD sent out an email that had false information in it,” Swift said in a statement.

HUD officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Swift’s statement, nor did the White House, which would be responsible for the inspector general appointment.

Tufts’s reported appointment raised objections among Democrats and good-government advocates, who argued that a political official in the Trump administration — who worked for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about plans to build Trump Tower in Moscow during 2016 campaign: report DC train system losing 0k per day during government shutdown Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees MORE’s election campaign — is too conflicted to be a watchdog.

Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Major California utility PG&E filing for bankruptcy after wildfires | Zinke hired at investment firm | Barclays to avoid most Arctic drilling financing Zinke takes job at investment firm Trump taps Commerce watchdog to be new Interior inspector general MORE is under numerous investigations by the office of the inspector general, including ones into his wife’s travel and reports that he negotiated a business deal that involved the former chairman of oil service company Halliburton Co.

Swift said Tufts was referred to Interior by the White House as a potential candidate for a position in the IG’s office. But “at the end of the day, she was not offered a job at Interior.”

She blamed the media for reporting incorrect information.

“This is a classic example of the media jumping to conclusions and reporting before all facts are known.”

Interior’s denouncement of the news came two days after reports were first published on Tufts new job.

Interior Spokesperson Faith Vander Voort on Tuesday said in a statement that "The position of the Inspector General has been vacant for about ten years. This is a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed position, which would be announced by the White House."

Brown Tuesday said Tufts was being detailed to the IG's office, in a temporary position and that Tufts would remain a HUD employee.

Swift clarified that that is false.

Tufts would have replaced Mary Kendall, the deputy inspector general, as the top official in the watchdog office. Kendall does not currently have the “acting” title, but she has led the office since 2009. Swift said Kendall is still in her position.

The Interior inspector general’s office Thursday still had not heard of any internal staff changes from the Interior Department, a spokeswoman said.

Kendall learned of the Thursday statement from Swift only after reporters sent it around for comment, a source with knowledge told The Hill.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, mocked the mix-up.

“This administration can’t stop embarrassing itself or keep its story straight for five minutes, so this is par for the course,” he said in a statement.

“If the Interior department’s explanation is that Secretary Carson doesn’t know what his own staff are doing, they should explain whether Ms. Tufts is needed at HUD or not. What is her job there?”

Updated at 5:05 p.m.