Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin pushed back on a White House statement that said he ‘resigned’ from his job last week.
‘I did not resign,’ Shulkin said on CNN Sunday morning, to State of the Union host Jake Tapper’s question about whether President Trump’s VA secretary had been fired.
On Meet the Press Shulkin added, ‘There would be no reason for me to resign. I made a commitment. I took an oath. And I was here to fight for our veterans.’
Ousted Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Meet the Press, and on State of the Union, that he did not ‘resign’ from his post leading the agency, as the White House claimed on Saturday
‘I did not resign,’ fired VA Secretary David Shulkin (left) told CNN’s Jake Tapper (right) on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday
Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin (left) told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd that he had spoken with President Trump several hours before the president sent out his tweet announcing Shulkin was gone, and had no inkling he was about to be fired
On Wednesday, President Trump alerted the world that he was replacing Shulkin with his personal physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, using Twitter.
‘I am pleased to announce that I intend to nominate highly respected Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD, as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs,’ Trump said. ‘In the interim, Hon. Robert Wilkie of DOD will serve as Acting Secretary. I am thankful for Dr. David Shulkin’s service to our country and to our GREAT VETERANS!’
Shulkin described the announcement that he was out as ‘somewhat of a surprise.
‘General Kelly gave me a call very shortly before the tweet came out,’ he told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, explaining that he had spoken with the president earlier in the day. ‘And we talked a lot about issues at VA that were important and how we could continue to make progress on policy issues.’
Walking away from his conversation with Trump, Shulkin said he didn’t expect to be axed.
‘In fact, we had set up a meeting for the very next day where I was going to meet with him at 11 in the morning,’ Shulkin said.
When Chief of Staff John Kelly called ‘he just simply said the president had decided that he needed to make a change,’ Shulkin said.
The ex-VA secretary also said he wasn’t asked to write a letter of resignation.
Shulkin’s firing, versus a resignation, matters as Trump decided to appoint an interim secretary instead of promoting Shulkin’s deputy.
Politico pointed out Saturday that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, which gives the president the authority to temporarily fill a vacancy, only does so when the current office holder ‘dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.’
When the publication sought comment on the potential legal issues involved in replacing Shulkin in such a way, White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters stated, ‘Secretary Shulkin resigned from his position as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.’
On Meet the Press, Shulkin – the one Obama cabinet secretary that Trump retained – said that he and the president always had a ‘good relationship.’
But Shulkin had created some bad buzz for the administration, already plagued by scandals involving cabinet secretaries abusing government funds.
In February, the VA’s internal watchdog issued a report that found that Shulkin had improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets.
Additionally, the probe found that Shulkin’s staff had doctored emails to justify the secretary’s wife traveling with him to Europe on the taxpayer dime.
‘I will tell you I do not believe that there was any misuse of government funds,’ Shulkin told Todd. ‘And, unfortunately, after the inspector general report came out I was prohibited from giving my point of view on this. I had prepared a statement. It was removed from the V.A. website. I was told that I was not allowed to go out and talk to the press about this.’
‘Look, I went to a conference in Europe that the U.S. has attended for 43 years all about veterans’ issues,’ Shulkin said, adding that he attended 40 hours of meetings while there.
Todd pointed out that Shulkin had attended Wimbledon.
‘I went to Wimbledon on a Saturday. I went to see some sites in the evenings. After. We didn’t miss a single minute of conference,’ he argued.
‘Everybody, every American has their weekends,’ Shulkin said.
The ex-Veterans Affairs secretary was also asked about a Washington Post report that said he had stationed an armed guard outside his office to keep certain political appointees – who were encouraging Trump to fire Shulkin – away.
Shulkin denied making changes to his security.
‘I always have my security detail on my floor outside my office. There was no change in protocol there,’ he said.
But he did admit to not allowing certain people to have access.
‘Well, when the political appointees decided that they were no longer going to participate as an effective member of my team, when they had memos showing that they wanted to have me removed, my deputy secretary removed, my chief of staff removed, of course I limited access to those people,’ Shulkin said.
‘They no longer were willing to be working effectively with us in, in a way to improve care for veterans,’ he added.
Shulkin took a diplomatic approach when asked about his potential successor, the doctor most known for getting behind the White House podium and complimenting the president for his ‘good genes.’
Jackson, a Navy doctor who served in Iraq, doesn’t have traditional management experience on his resume.
‘Look, I think Dr. Jackson is a good man. And I think that he should continue to have the veterans’ interest at heart,’ Shulkin said. ‘This is a very tough job.’
When asked by Todd if Jackson was qualified for the position, Shulkin wouldn’t say.
‘This is a very tough job. I’m not sure that anybody realizes how complex this is. A $200 billion budget. 370,000 people. Working with Congress and representing veterans,’ Shulkin answered instead. ‘I wish him the best. I will do everything I can to make sure that he is successful.’