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Washington Post: Trump administration backtracks on curious HUD staffer move

Suzanne Israel Tufts isn’t moving to a new job at the Interior Dept. after all

On Wednesday, it was reported that U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary for the Office of Administration Suzanne Israel Tufts was moved to the Interior Department to serve as its acting inspector general overseeing four investigations into Secretary Ryan Zinke’s conduct.

But not so fast. According to new reporting from the Washington Post, the Interior Department said Tufts’ move was not approved and that the announcement was false.

From the article:

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

According to initial reporting from The Washington Post, HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced the move to agency staffers via email on Friday, taking lawmakers and officials at the Interior Department by surprise. According to the Post, a HUD spokesperson said Tuft’s move is temporary, but the email from Carson said Tuft was leaving the agency. Top White House officials told the Washington Post on Thursday they had not been made aware of the plan to hire Tufts, who has served as HUD’s assistant secretary for administration since December.

The Interior Department press secretary, Heather Swift, rebuked HUD’s email that was sent out, saying it had “100% false information.”

From the article:

“Ms. Tufts is not employed by the Department and no decision was ever made to move her to Interior,” the agency’s press secretary, Heather Swift, said in a statement Thursday.

And in a striking public rebuke of another Cabinet agency led by a close friend of Zinke’s, Swift wrote that HUD “sent out an email that had 100 percent false information in it.” She affirmed that Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall, who has led the office for nine years, is still in the job.

Swift explained to the Post that Tufts was referred to Interior officials by the White House “as a potential candidate” for a role in the inspector general’s office but didn’t elaborate on what position.

“At the end of the day, she was not offered a job at Interior,” Swift told the paper.

The news of Tufts' short-lived appointment raised eyebrows among many in the D.C. legal community. Michael Bromwich, former inspector general at the Justice Department from 1994 to 1999, told the Washington Post that Tufts’ hire was “highly unusual.”

“The statute says that alone among political appointees, this is a nonpartisan position to be staffed on a permanent basis by those with appropriate backgrounds,” Bromwich told the paper. “It’s a real breach of protocol to put someone who’s only qualification is political allegiance to the Trump administration.”

According to the Post's article, Tufts' experience mostly stems from volunteering with "Trump-Pence 2017", according to documents received by advocacy group American Oversight via the Freedom of Information Act.

From the article: 

Aside from the fact that she holds a law degree, it is unclear what specific aspect of Tufts’s background qualifies her for the job of Interior inspector general. Her résumé, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the advocacy group American Oversight, shows that she volunteered for “Trump-Pence 2017” by helping to train and deploy lawyers in the field.

HUD officials have not returned the newspaper's request for comment, nor HousingWire's. We will update, should we receive a response. 

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