Embattled Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has said he was granted permission by the White House to purge his agency of any employees who have undermined him, all while the secretary deals with backlash from his recent travel scandal.
Shulkin, the sole Cabinet-level holdover from the Obama administration, was investigating VA personnel for “subversion” of his authority, he said in an interview with Politico on Tuesday. The former hospital administrator did not expand on how many members of the staff were part of what he called “subversive events” intended to force his departure, but the report claimed some political appointees may have been involved.
“The White House has been clear they want me focused on the president’s agenda, and to do that I have to have the authority to be able to run the organization,” Shulkin told Politico after meeting with White House chief of staff John Kelly on Tuesday. “There’s never been any deviation from that.”
Shulkin’s newly appointed chief of staff, Peter O’Rourke, is in the process of meeting with staff “individually and as a group to determine now that there is a clear direction where we are going, where people are going to stand," Shulkin added. "Those who crossed the line in the past are going to have to be accountable for those decisions."
Shulkin’s former chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, retired from her post last week after a report from the VA's inspector general said she had falsified an email to have the agency pay for Shulkin’s wife to travel with him to Europe last summer.
Shulkin also improperly received tickets to attend the Wimbledon professional tennis tournament in London from a friend, according to the report.
Shulkin has now paid back the funds, and the White House has continued to back him. Fixing and upgrading the VA was a top campaign promise for President Donald Trump. One of the president's initiatives was signing a bill that gave Shulkin greater power to dismiss VA employees and to shorten the appeals process after a firing.
The apparent purge of staff members intent on Shulkin’s demise fits his promise to reporters last week after his testimony before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“We need this department to be functioning well,” Shulkin said. “Everybody needs to know their job is taking care of veterans. “If that’s not the case, we’re going to root that out, and we’re going to make sure this is a department we’re all proud of.”
More from Newsweek