Last week, Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson used his gifted hands to send out an email that threw multiple departments into turmoil, made it unclear whether a ten-year veteran of the Interior Department still had a job and garnered widespread accusations of an unethical coverup.
He unleashed this bureaucratic turmoil either because a) he oafishly advertised a secret, sneaky plot b) he was tasked with sending out a trial balloon in the hopes that news outlets/watchdogs would miss the personnel transfer or c) he just loves bon voyage cakes and the sweet, sweet temptation of Fudgie the Whale was too much to overcome.
Either way, not a good look for the dining set connoisseur.
Let’s start at the beginning. Last Friday, Carson sent out a department-wide email bidding farewell to Suzanne Tufts, assistant secretary for administration at HUD, and wishing her good luck in her new post of acting inspector general at the Interior Department.
This was news to the current acting inspector general of the Interior Department, Mary Kendall.
Kendall has been in the role for a decade, and has spearheaded aggressive investigations into allegedly unethical conduct committed by Ryan Zinke, the Interior secretary. (In his defense, pocketing taxpayers’ money to take fancy flights on government planes is, like, a requirement for cabinet officials at this point.)
Tufts, on the other hand, has no relevant experience whatsoever — except, as a political appointee, loyalty to the administration.
She may well have been chosen for her loyalty before. Tufts replaced Helen Foster who was booted for blowing the whistle on the $31,000 dining set Carson & co. purchased for the office. Perhaps the administration felt Tufts would be much more accommodating to Carson’s highfalutin taste in tables.
When the story of Carson’s email started gaining traction, a Zinke spokeswoman neatly hit back — by tossing both the media and HUD secretary under the bus in one fell swoop.
Heather Swift, a senior adviser to Zinke, snarked at the news outlets reporting on the story, starting out her statement with: “This is a classic example of the media jumping to conclusions and reporting before all facts are known.”
She went on to say that the Carson email contained “false information” and that Tufts was merely considered for the job (for which she, once more for the folks in the back, had NO EXPERIENCE).
And then, mere hours later, the inspector general’s report came out! Tut, tut Zinke, can’t call your wife a volunteer just to scrimp on airfare! And mayhaps $25,000 of taxpayer money is just a tad too steep for a totally unnecessary security detail to come along on the fam vacation. But whatever, at least it’s not a used mattress.
Tufts was also, apparently, unable to emerge from this debacle unscathed. On Friday, The Washington Post reported that she was resigning from the federal government.
Unfortunately for Zinke, he is still part of six ongoing probes (five others were closed due to lack of cooperation or records from the Interior Department, and he was cleared in three more — full rundown here).
And unless maestro Carson can be a little stealthier in laying bare seemingly politically motivated schemes, it looks like Zinke may just have to answer for those bootlicking socks after all.
For forgetting to double check that Kendall was formally off the job before setting up a ticker-tape parade for her successor, Ben Carson is our duke of the week.