Almost two months ago, a whistleblower from inside the Department of Veteran Affairs claimed that the Inspector General watered down the final report in the VA’s wait-list scandal to minimize the political damage. IG Richard Griffin denied that he had been pressured to adjust his findings, which the Arizona Republic found used a nearly impossible standard for responsibility to get the VA off the hook for hundreds of fraud-related deaths. On Friday, though, the House Committee on Veteran Affairs published e-mails that clearly show the White House demanding those changes to the final report:
The secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and a White House appointee pressed for changes in an inspector general’s reporton the Phoenix VA medical center, successfully getting a key finding added, according to newly released documents.
In recent congressional testimony, acting VA Inspector General Richard Griffin adamantly denied that changes in the final report, which downplayed links between delayed care and up to 40 veteran deaths, had been “dictated” by VA headquarters.
But e-mails released Friday by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs show that Sloan Gibson, then the acting VA secretary, personally corresponded with Griffin in early August, asking him to amend the report.
The message from the White House came nearly from the top. Barack Obama appointed Rob Nabors to supposedly get to the bottom of the corruption. Instead, it appears that Nabors extended it:
E-mails show that White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors, who was appointed by President Barack Obama this summer to monitor the VA scandal, also urged the change. The e-mails also asked the OIG to share its planned “message” to the media about veterans’ deaths.
The assistant IG circled back to the VA’s leadership after the change was made to make sure that they were happy with the language. “Was the message on the deaths well received?” John Daigh asked one official at the VA, and Gibson — also hand-picked by Obama to clean up the VA — sent a personal note of thanks to Griffin for the adjustments.
This isn’t the first time that Nabors has been accused of attempting to cover up the scandal. In July, whistleblower Scott Davis testified before Congress that his attempt to inform Nabors of problems in the VA backfired after his complaints mysteriously got leaked to his manager. Davis was joined by a number of whistleblowers who testified about retaliation over the summer.
Apparently, Griffin got the message, literally and figuratively, from Nabors and Gibson. Instead of acting on behalf of veterans and their families, Griffin caved to pressure from the White House and the agency the IG was tasked with independently auditing, and the paper trail spells it out clearly. That kind of pressure should never take place on the IG corps, and when it does it corrupts the accountability that Congress builds into the agency structure and its power-sharing with the executive branch. This is an attack on the balance of powers within the Constitution, and is doubly shameful for its effect in attempting to excuse corrupt bureaucrats for their roles in patient deaths while falsifying government records to protect their jobs and even earn bonuses.
It’s time to take this out of the hands of the IG and into the hands of a special prosecutor.