President Donald Trump is on the verge of firing the Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin according to people familiar with the matter. The President is planning on making “one or two major changes,” according to longtime Trump friend and confidant Chris Ruddy, the Newsmax CEO. Ruddy spoke with Trump over the weekend, he said.
“Other White House sources, not the President, tell me that Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is likely to depart the Cabinet very soon,” Ruddy said during an interview yesterday. Another administration official put Shulkin’s chances of being pushed out in the coming days at “50/50.”
Shulkin has been under fire for months as scandals have clouded his tenure and high-ranking officials at the VA have staged an unprecedented rebellion.
Shulkin’s Chief of staff announced her resignation in February after it was learned she lied to investigators about doctoring an email that allowed Shulkin’s wife to accompany him on a trip to Europe last year at taxpayer’s expense. Vivieca Wright Simpson had been with Veterans Affairs for thirty-two years and spent two years working for Shulkin.
An investigation by the VA’s inspector general found Simpson doctored an email sent to an ethics lawyer to show that Shulkin was getting special recognition or an award during a trip to Denmark and London last year. The statements allowed Shulkin’s wife to accompany him on the taxpayer funded trip.
Shulkin apologized and reimbursed the government for his wife’s airfare. He is also seeking to reimburse a British veterans’ advocate for tickets to the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament that he and wife improperly accepted while on that trip.
“I am committed to continuing the work that I came here to do, which is to support the president’s agenda to reform the VA and fix the VA the way that veterans deserve, the care and services they’ve earned,” he said at the time. “And I am going to remain focused on that task and I am not going to get distracted from what we have to do.”
It is unclear what caused Wright Simpson to doctor the email. She declined to comment.
A second internal investigation due out in the next couple of weeks is looking into complaints that Shulkin ordered a member of his round-the-clock security detail to accompany him to Home Depot store and carry furniture items into his home.
Shulkin is also facing what appears to be an extraordinary mutiny from VA officials serving under him. He has refused to comment on events he’s called “subversive,” but political appointees installed by Trump have openly discussed terminating Shulkin. A top communications official has taken an extended leave in the wake of a secret and failed attempt to turn lawmakers against him.
Shulkin has also drawn the ire of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly for repeatedly turning to the media to talk about problems at the VA, as well as claiming unwavering support from the White House in internal battles at the agency. Kelly has made it clear that is something Shulkin does not have.
The President has come to view Shulkin’s tenure as a distraction and is weighing replacements options, officials have said. Among the names being floated are former Service member and former CEO of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America Pete Hegseth, and retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg.
Several Cabinet members have been fired or have resigned in recent weeks including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster. The President hinted at changes earlier this month when he said, “I have gotten to know a lot of people very well over the last year and I’m really at a point where we’re getting close to having the cabinet and other things that I want.”