Interior IG who oversaw Zinke investigations to retire in May
The Interior Department’s top internal watchdog, who oversaw the multiple investigations that contributed to the resignation of former Secretary Ryan Zinke, will retire from the agency next month, even as her office opens an inquiry into newly confirmed Secretary David Bernhardt.
Mary Kendall, deputy inspector general for the department, led the office during the Zinke probes, including two stemming from POLITICO’s reporting that the IG’s office has referred to the Justice Department, according to news reports. Those reports say investigators have been looking into whether Zinke, who departed the agency in January, lied to the Interior watchdog.
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On Monday, Kendall announced she was launching an investigation into Bernhardt for several possible ethics violations.
Kendall will step down in May and take the position of deputy inspector general at Amtrak, Interior Office of Inspector General spokesperson Nancy DiPaolo told POLITICO. Kendall had reached retirement age and was stepping down voluntarily, she added.
“Nothing nefarious at all,” DiPaolo said. “She’s just able to retire.”
Interior’s investigations into Zinke are continuing, DiPaolo told POLITICO.
Kendall’s position at the IG’s office had briefly come under question last year after Housing and Urban Development Department Secretary Ben Carson sent an email to staff announcing that Suzanne Tufts, his own assistant secretary of administration, would take over as Interior’s inspector general.
Though Tufts never joined Interior’s team, Carson’s email raised concerns about potential political interference into the investigations Kendall was carrying out on Zinke’s relationship with the then-chairman of oilfield services company Halliburton and his role in blocking gaming licenses for Indian tribes.
Interior and the White House blamed each other for the fact that the HUD official was being considered to head the Interior office. In the end, HUD said Carson had been mistaken in his email to staff. Tufts eventually resigned.
The White House has picked Mark Greenblatt, who previously worked at the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General, to head Interior’s watchdog. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has not yet scheduled a hearing for his nomination, and a committee spokesperson declined to comment on the potential timing.