Ryan Zinke Has Fired the DOI Inspector General

by Wes Siler as published on Outside

“…And replaced her with a loyalist political operative who may not need Senate confirmation…”

At last count, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was the subject of 14 separate government investigations. (A new record!) But that number could soon be zero. That’s because Zinke just fired the Department of the Interior’s acting inspector general.

The news doesn’t stop there. Not only did Mary Kendall, the acting inspector general, not learn she was being replaced until The Hill broke the news this morning, but her replacement will likely be able to fill the role without needing to go through Senate confirmation.

Kendall—who’s served as acting inspector general at the DOI for ten years, and previously spent a decade as deputy inspector general—is being replaced by Suzanne Israel Tufts, a Republican lawyer who worked on the Trump campaign, and then was appointed to the role of assistant secretary of administration at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Tufts will not need to undergo Senate confirmation to fill the new role, as she was already approved by Congress for her job at HUD.

Tufts, who will now handle oversight of the investigations into Zinke, was appointed to HUD to replace an official who blew the whistle on Ben Carson’s taxpayer-funded $31,000 dining set.

If you think that sounds unethical, you’re not alone. “We are particularly worried that she’s a political appointee without any obvious government oversight experience,” Danielle Brian, the executive director of the non-partisan Project on Government Oversight, told NBC. “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.”

“This reeks of retaliation for the shocking number of investigations into Secretary Zinke’s unethical conduct,” Chris Saeger, the executive director of the Western Values Project, said in a release. “He should immediately explain the reasons why the current inspector general is leaving and if he fails to, Congress should demand answers.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz), a ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the move “stinks to high heaven.” He went on to tell The Hill: “Secretary Zinke and the Interior Department are awash in wave after wave of scandal and corruption, and they decide now is the perfect time to get rid of the current IG. After looking around, the best person they could find is a Trump political operative at HUD who turned a blind eye to Secretary Carson’s $31,000 dining set.”

Meanwhile, one of the scandals surrounding Zinke is the $139,000 bill for new doors at his Washington office. He also faces investigations for his lavish travel arrangements, threatening members of Congress, a potentially illegal real estate deal, and re-assigning senior DOI employees he didn’t consider “loyal.”

Perhaps most troubling, though, is Zinke’s pattern of putting business before the environment when it comes to decision making on public land. He ignored public comment when he recommended that the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments be shrunk (a move that benefited extractive industries), has scrubbed mention of climate change from scientific reports commissioned by DOI, halted studies into the environmental impacts of drilling and mining, sabotaged the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and is doing away with compensatory mitigation polices for companies that damage the environment.

All that was with impartial oversight at DOI. What will Zinke do without it?

9 comments

  1. What the H___ next? He is allowed to do as he pleases with NO OVERSIGHT at all? THIS is our “democratic” government in action? OK – other than Rep. Grijalva – where are the rest of our “representatives” on this issue?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, and being an “assistant secretary administrator” for a human housing and urban development agency is SUCH A GREAT FIT for overseeing the Department of Interior??? Zinke should be fired for hiring someone not remotely qualified for the position, and it clearly indicates his conflict of interest in filling it. Even worse that a career staffer finds out in the paper she has lost her job–class act, Zinke.

    We, the people, should be able to be proud of our government. This action (and so much else) fails us all. Criminals are applauded and good people are being purged at every turn.

    Stand up, wake up, VOTE. Our country’s best fundaments and qualities are being dismantled. If people fail to vote we can only blame ourselves as we watch our country dissolve into chaos. It will also be emptied of anything resembling natural herds of wild horses and burros.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This administration and its cabinet “secretaries” have absolutely no clue of how a government or for that matter, how any business, is run. And THEY are supposed to be “public servants” – working for the people? Kind of like a comedy skit – if it werent for the fact that we – the audience – are suffering from their lack of qualifications!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I would look for negative things coming out against Zinke, obviously the IG and Zinke did not see eye to eye and it would be interesting to find out why, what he did and what was going on in the department. Poor Horses and something illegal???

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Montana needs to be renamed. Instead of “Big Sky Country” it should be “Big Buy Country.”

    “Outside groups and individual donors have poured more than $45 million into Montana’s U.S. Senate race as President Donald Trump prepares a third trip to the Big Sky state in his crusade to unseat two-term Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.

    The contest is on pace to be the most expensive in Montana history, and it’s been driven by Trump’s apparent personal interest in Tester’s defeat and his efforts to ensure Republicans keep power in the Senate. …

    Tester voted against confirming Kavanaugh, citing his stance on campaign finances and personal privacy, and the sexual assault allegations against the judge by Christine Blasey Ford.

    The Democrat rejected the argument that he’s changed since he took office and said Republicans employed similar strategies during the campaigns that he won in 2006 and 2012.

    “In order to beat me you’ve got to make me into something I’m not. And that’s what they’ve done their level best to do,” Tester said. “”Look, Montanans know who I am, they know I’m a lifetime Montanan, they know I understand rural America, they know I understand public lands and not privatizing them.”’

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/money-pours-into-montana-senate-race-as-trump-makes-3rd-stop/2018/10/17/cba9a8e4-d222-11e8-a4db-184311d27129_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.32b3a890514c

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Audio: Amodei cusses out Trump appointee Zinke over Nevada BLM shakeup

    U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., went on a profanity-laced tirade aimed at Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke after a recent leadership shakeup at the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada, an audio recording obtained by the Reno Gazette Journal reveals.

    https://www.rgj.com/story/news/politics/2018/03/26/audio-amodei-cusses-out-trump-appointee-zinke-over-nevada-blm-shakeup/454916002/

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Two paragraphs from a 12 page letter:

    STATES AND COMMONWEALTHS OF NORTH CAROLINA, CALIFORNIA, CONNECTICUT, DELAWARE, MAINE, MASSACHUSETTS, MARYLAND, NEW JERSEY, NEW YORK, OREGON, RHODE ISLAND, AND VIRGINIA

    February 1, 2018

    The Honorable Ryan Zinke
    Secretary of the Interior Department of the Interior
    1849 C Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20240

    Re: Initial Atlantic and Pacific State Comments on 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Draft Proposed Program

    Dear Secretary Zinke:

    As the attorneys general of North Carolina, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Virginia, we write to express our deep concerns about and opposition to the Department of the Interior’s 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Draft Proposed Program (the “Draft Proposed Program”), which would open ocean areas in the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas leasing for the first time in decades. The Draft Proposed Program represents disregard for vital state interests, economies, and resources.

    We urge you to listen to the people of our states and terminate the Draft Proposed Program in its entirety. If the Draft Proposed Program is not terminated, we believe after the appropriate deliberative process, you will find that there are substantial and compelling reasons to retain the current restrictions on offshore leasing in the Atlantic and Pacific outer continental shelf areas. If the Department of Interior does not terminate the Draft Proposed Program, or remove the areas off our coasts from future consideration for oil and gas leasing, we will vigorously oppose the Department’s Program, using appropriate legal avenues.

    JOSHUA H. STEIN ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NORTH CAROLINA
    XAVIER BECERRA ATTORNEY GENERAL OF CALIFORNIA
    GEORGE JEPSEN CONNECTICUT ATTORNEY GENERAL
    MATTHEW P. DENN ATTORNEY GENERAL OF DELAWARE
    JANET T. MILLS MAINE ATTORNEY GENERAL
    BRIAN E. FROSH ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MARYLAND
    MAURA HEALEY ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MASSACHUSETTS
    GURBIR S. GREWAL ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NEW JERSEY
    ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NEW YORK
    PETER F. KILMARTIN RHODE ISLAND ATTORNEY GENERAL
    ELLEN F. ROSENBLUM OREGON ATTORNEY GENERAL
    MARK R. HERRING ATTORNEY GENERAL OF VIRGINIA

    http://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/news%20documents/Offshore_drilling_letter_February_1_2018.pdf

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well, not so fast. It seems Ben Carson was premature and Ms. Kendall still has her position, maybe. But there’s more scrutiny of Zinke’s own tracks:

    Hours before the report was released, Interior Department officials said that they did not approve the hiring of a political appointee as their agency’s acting watchdog, calling the announcement of her move by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson “100 percent false information.”

    The backtracking on Suzanne Israel Tufts’s move drew widespread scrutiny, raising questions about how and why she was supposedly chosen to lead Interior’s inspector general’s office, which is conducting at least four investigations into Zinke’s activities. Last week, investigators issued two subpoenas for documents to entities tied to the probes, according to two individuals familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

    “… critics of the administration said the report, which also found that taxpayers paid $25,000 to send an unarmed security detail with the Zinkes on their vacation to Turkey and Greece last summer, documents a breach of the public trust.

    “This report shows Secretary Zinke’s dogged determination to use his office for personal gain, even going so far as to tell Interior’s top lawyer to lie to the public to justify his wife’s travel,” said Jen Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, an advocacy group. “Secretary Zinke owes the American people an apology — and a refund.”

    Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (Ariz.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement: “Republicans have known about Secretary Zinke’s scandals for eighteen months and done nothing. Putting Democrats in charge of Congress is the only way to stop these abuses.”

    The IG inquiry also found that the secretary had invited two individuals who had hosted a fundraiser for him when he served as a congressman to go on an official trip to California’s Channel Islands, at government expense, and had not notified Interior lawyers about the fact that they were former political contributors.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-administration-does-about-face-on-its-own-announcement-that-top-aide-at-hud-would-be-interiors-watchdog/2018/10/18/d90bbf7a-d2fb-11e8-8c22-fa2ef74bd6d6_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.9576c0c5d82c

    Like

  8. From MOTHER JONES (excerpts)

    “The Guy Doing the Dirty Work” at Trump’s Interior Department is an Ex-Oil Lobbyist Straight Out of the Swamp
    “Bernhardt knows where all the skeletons are and the strings to pull.”

    REBECCA LEBER OCTOBER 9, 2018

    With the tepid enthusiasm of an overworked elementary school principal, David Bernhardt, the second-in-command at the Department of the Interior, stood in the newly refurbished auditorium at the agency’s Washington headquarters, trying to get the staff settled down before a routine town hall with the secretary. The in-person audience at the event last winter numbered about 100, though up to 70,000 Interior employees nationwide could have watched the livestream as Bernhardt introduced his boss. Ryan Zinke, who towered over his deputy, strode to the lectern, passing Bernhardt without shaking hands.

    Bernhardt is the perfect No. 2 to a highly visible No. 1. Zinke is the folksy charmer; Bernhardt is the strictly-business lawyer. Zinke is the relative outsider, an opportunist, and a politician; Interior watchdogs say Bernhardt is the ultimate DC swamp creature. Zinke is relatively new to Interior; Bernhardt, who spent eight years at the department earlier in his career, knows the ins and outs of its labyrinthine bureaucracy. And while Zinke has been mired in scandals and faces at least six active ethics investigations—including inspector general inquiries into possible Hatch Act lobbying violations and a Halliburton land deal in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana—Bernhardt has been largely invisible

    “Bernhardt knows where all the skeletons are and the strings to pull,” Obama-era career Interior official Joel Clement told me. Unlike Zinke, whose well-cultivated cowboy persona is “all hat, no cattle,” Clement says, “the real work is being done by Bernhardt.

    https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2018/10/david-bernhardt-interior-department/

    Like

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