The Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has revealed that he has received assurances from the White House that his job is not in jeopardy following a scathing inspector general’s report last week that he misused taxpayers dollars during a trip to Europe.
Shulkin made the statement after a meeting at the White House on Tuesday, he said that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had assured him he would stay in place. “I’m the secretary, I’m in charge of carrying out the president’s agenda, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” he said. “I came here always with the intention of fighting for veterans and that’s what I’m going to continue to do, which is to focus this agency on improving the VA for veterans.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said during a press briefing that she has “no reason to believe” President Trump had lost confidence in Shulkin. Shulkin was found by investigators from the VA inspector general’s office to have wrongly accepted Wimbledon tickets and airfare for his wife at taxpayers’ expense during a trip to London and Denmark last July.
The investigators found the couple spent more than half the trip sightseeing and misused a VA staffer to plan the activities. Additionally, investigators determined his chief of staff falsified an email to secure clearance for his wife to accompany him.
Shulkin first attacked the investigation as unfair, then suggested his chief of staff’s email was hacked, and, in what looked like another deflection of responsibility, he pointed to a group of aides targeting and undermining him. Thereafter he expressed remorse and agreed to repay the cost of the tennis tickets and his wife’s airfare.
Shulkin issued an apology to employees Friday for the way he handled the findings. “This week there have been some unfortunate distractions from our core mission of serving Veterans. For that I take responsibility and recognize that this could have been handled better; I owe you an apology for that,” he wrote in an email. “Going forward, it is most important that we all remain focused on the great work that you are doing and our efforts to do even better in the future.”
The White House on Friday installed a new chief of staff at his agency. Also, his communications staff is reporting to the White House rather than to him. This has created confusion about who is running the agency among employees.
Shulkin said he plans to get everyone on the same page going forward and remove those who don’t.
“I don’t know any executive that can run an organization where there are multiple agendas and where the people in charge aren’t all aligned on the same goal,” he said. “I made it clear that I cannot tolerate that, and that everyone is going to have to get focused on the president’s agenda and what I’m trying to do, and if they aren’t able to do that, they can’t remain in the organization.”