Why not? The House Veterans Affairs committee seemed happy enough to swallow VA Secretary David Shulkin’s ludicrous explanation for misusing public funds and covering it up, as detailed in a damning Inspector General report released this week. Both chair Phil Roe and ranking member Tim Walz seemed anxious to slough it off as “bad optics.” Why wouldn’t the White House breathe a sigh of relief?
The main reason: Shulkin lied to them about the affair, and they got blindsided by specificity and the seriousness of the OIG’s findings, the Washington Post reports.
He made the rounds of the West Wing earlier this week to urge them to offer supportive statements about him, and sought the firm backing of both Kelly and Trump, according to a senior administration official. But the secretary had presented the findings of the forthcoming investigation in a more flattering light and left out some of its most damning findings, the official said.
“People were like, ‘Sure, okay, that doesn’t sound so bad,’ ” this person said. Press office staffers began brainstorming on how to help Shulkin.
When the report was made public Wednesday, White House officials read it and felt misled, the official said.
“He can defend himself on this one,” a senior administration official said, referring to the inspector general’s report. “He was totally dishonest about it.”
Another reason may be that Shulkin’s “one-memoed hacker” theory seems to be taking aim at another Trump appointee, one that has clashed with Shulkin and his Obama-era holdover staff. Shulkin accused some Trump appointees without naming them of “trying to undermine the department from within,” prompting a public retort from senior VA official Jake Leinenkugel that his dissent has been both aboveboard and well known, and that it’s Shulkin and his staff that are playing partisan politics at the VA:
Leinenkugel suggested that Wright Simpson and Bowman were obstructionists, writing in the memo that the chief of staff told him that “she is a Democrat who completely trusts the Secretary and it’s her job to protect him and his agenda.” …
In a statement emailed Thursday night, Leinenkugel said that as a proud Marine he would “never lie, cheat, steal nor contemplate criminal behavior.”
“I express my concerns and suggestions for improvements freely and on a weekly, if not daily basis. To be questioned about my involvement in hacking VA emails is an affront and absurd,” he added.
To be more on point about this, it’s difficult to see how Leinenkugel or anyone else had anything to do with setting up a mostly bogus trip and transforming it into an all-expenses-paid vacation for Mr. & Mrs. Shulkin. The only people responsible for extending a two-day London summit into a nine-day tour of Europe are David Shulkin and his chief of staff Viveca Wright Simpson. Shulkin appears to be pulling every conspiracy theory in the book out to distract from the clear findings of the OIG, from one-memoed hackers to the Trump Illuminati.
Shulkin has entirely disqualified himself from any position of leadership and trust. If he won’t quit, it’s time for Trump to dust off his pet phrase from his reality-TV days and tell Shulkin, “You’re fired.”
Update: At least one person’s out. Viveca Wright Simpson told colleagues she’s retiring, USA Today reports, after the OIG referred her for a criminal investigation for altering e-mails to falsely gain approval for Shulkin’s wife:
The third most senior official at the Department of Veterans Affairs is stepping down amid findings she misled ethics officials to secure approval for VA Secretary David Shulkin’s wife to accompany him on taxpayer-funded trip to Europe.
Viveca Wright Simpson, Shulkin’s chief of staff, told colleagues Friday morning that she is retiring after 32 years at the agency and more than two years as Shulkin’s most senior aide.
The announcement came two days after the VA inspector general released recommendations that she be disciplined for doctoring an email to an ethics lawyer to show Shulkin was getting special recognition or an award during the trip to Denmark and London last year, the criteria for clearing his wife’s flights on the public’s dime.
Shulkin confirmed the move to USA TODAY and said he intends to continue in his post and remains committed to fulfilling President Trump’s agenda in overhauling the VA.
One down, one to go.