The VA’s silencing of whistleblowers
An office established by the Trump administration in the Department of Veterans Affairs to protect internal whistleblowers ended up alienating “the very individuals it was meant to protect,” according to a VA Office of Inspector General report released Thursday.
Why it matters: Creating a permanent Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection was a key campaign promise of President Trump’s, who said he wanted more accountability on veteran’s care.
- Instead, the office “engaged in actions that could be considered retaliatory [against whistleblowers]” and “likely diminished the desired confidence of whistleblowers and other potential complainants in the operations of the office,” the report said.
What they’re saying, per a VA spokesperson: “VA appreciates the inspector general’s oversight and has been encouraging the IG to complete this work for some time, but it’s important to note that this report largely focuses on OAWP’s operations under previous leaders who no longer work at VA.”
‘Apprentice’ contestant says new documents support Trump assault allegations
Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” says new documents support her allegations that President Trump sexually assaulted her in 2007.
Zervos said in court documents, as part of her defamation lawsuit against President Trump, that his itinerary from 2007 and emails from the Trump Organization corroborate her allegations, Variety reported Thursday.
Zervos has said Trump repeatedly kissed and groped her without her consent in 2007 after she appeared on his reality show. One of those incidents, according to Zervos, occurred when she visited Trump’s bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Her attorney, Marriann Wang, says Trump’s itinerary from that period indicates he stayed at the hotel Dec. 21-22, showing the two “were exactly where she said they were exactly when she said they were there,” Variety reported.
The former contestant has also said Trump invited her to the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes the morning after the alleged hotel incident, and his itinerary reportedly confirms he was scheduled to go there on Dec. 22.
Variety reported that Wang is requesting the judge in the defamation case allow the release of nine pages of discovery records that she says will further support Zervos’s allegations.
Zervos sued Trump in 2017 after he denied her claims of sexual assault in October 2016, saying he never met her in a hotel or touched her inappropriately.
The Hill reached out to the White House, Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz and Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten for comment.
Wang declined to comment to The Hill.
Trump has been ordered to sit for a deposition in the the case by Dec. 6, according to Variety.
Former VA Secretary David Shulkin says a ‘shadow’ group of political appointees undermined his every move and left an email planning his ouster on the printer
- Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin is speaking out for the first time about a “shadow government” he says he undermined him at every turn, and ultimately ousted him in April 2018.
- In a new book, “It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Serve Your Country,” Shulkin paints a troubling picture of a “toxic, chaotic and subversive” work environment.
- Shulkin says that a group of political appointees within the VA went over his head to hold their own meetings with White House officials on policy issues, and ultimately succeeded in ousting him from his job.
- Specifically, Shulkin blames those political appointees for leaking his travel schedule and lodging an allegation that he used government funds to pay for his wife’s travel to vacation in Europe.
As the Trump administration faces allegations that it undermined career State Department officials amid the ongoing impeachment inquiry, a former cabinet official is speaking out about a “shadow government” he says he undermined him at every turn.
In a new book, “It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Serve Your Country,” former Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin paints a troubling picture of a “toxic, chaotic and subversive” culture in President Donald Trump’s administration, according to NPR.
Unlike many of Trump’s other cabinet officials, Shulkin had extensive experience in government, previously serving as the Undersecretary for Health in the VA under President Barack Obama’s administration. Shulkin holds a medical degree from the Medical College of Pennsylvania.
In the interview, Shulkin says that while the time after Trump’s inauguration was very productive, “there were a couple of events that made me question and wonder whether there was a dual path of decision making in the White House.”
Shulkin says he ultimately came to realize that “there were clearly two paths when it came to veterans issues: the one that came from me, and the ones that were coming from other people,” naming the “other people” as political appointees within the VA that went over his head, and held their own meetings with White House officials.
In August of 2018, the investigative journalism outlet ProPublica reported that not just political appointees, but wealthy members of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, were involved in VA affairs and gave direction to VA employees on key policy issues despite not working in the government.
Shulkin said that the largest schism between himself and the political appointees and outside forces influencing veterans’ policy was over the extent to which VA services should be taken over by the private sector. The VA is the country’s largest integrated health care system, with an annual budget of $220 billion.
While those appointees pushed for vast privatization of VA, Shulkin argued for a more measured approach.
“I was in agreement that every veteran should get a choice about where they get their care, but I wanted to do this in a way that would not destroy the current VA system, because I believe the VA is doing things the private sector is not doing well,” Shulkin explained, worrying that privatizing too quickly or widely would undermine the quality of care.
“That was the issue I fought hardest for, and the one that ultimately ended up costing me my job,” Shulkin said, arguing that those political appointees ultimately determined Shulkin needed to be pushed out, and as he tells it, “perfected the art of the leak.”
Specifically, Shulkin blames those political appointees for leaking his travel schedule and lodging an allegation — which Shulkin vehemently disputes — that he used government funds to pay for his wife’s travel to vacation in Europe.
In reality, Shulkin says, he and his wife, who are both doctors, had both been invited to a Five Eyes security conference in Italy and their travel plans were approved by ethics officials. But the allegation that he misappropriated taxpayer funds was enough to cast a cloud over his job.
Then one day, Shulkin recalled, his deputy security brought him an email he found on a copy machine from one political appointee to other appointees outlining a plan to remove him, his deputy secretary, other senior officials, and “put in place people who agree with us.”
Even when Shulkin tried to fire the political appointees trying to destroy his career, he says the White House stepped in and prevented them from being removed.
And even after assurances from Trump himself and former White House chief of staff John Kelly that his job was secure, Trump blindsided Shulkin in April 2018 by ultimately firing him in a tweet.
“I think it’s a duty to share what one’s learned in government,” Shulkin said. “I am not trying to throw mud at anybody or make criticisms of any particular political party. I’m trying to be transparent about my experience so that we can learn from it…I am very concerned about the future of public service.”