Democrats accuse VA secretary of campaigning for Trump and GOP at official time
Congressional Democrats accuse Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie to use his Cabinet post to hope for President Donald Trump’s re-election in recent months instead of focusing solely on the needs of the department.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the Wilkie and VA watchdog agencies, the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Mark Takano, D-Calif. government funds and other assets to benefit the re-election of President Trump and certain Republican candidates running for public office in 2020. ”
Veterans Affairs officials dismissed the charges as a political coup.
“The partisan letter from lawmakers, which has no Republican backing, questions who is partisan in this situation,” VA press secretary Christina Noel said in a statement. “Secretary Wilkie’s official trip is available online for everyone to see, and these trips to hear directly from our employees in the field are a core responsibility of any VA secretary. The idea that these visits are somehow inappropriate is absurd.
The concerns come just days after the Office of the Special Counsel announced that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue had violated laws regarding inappropriate government policy. During an “official” trip to North Carolina, he advocated on behalf of Trump’s re-election campaign, which the agency said was a violation of the Hatch Act.
In their letter to VA – also sent to the department’s inspector general and the Office of Special Counsel for a potential investigation – Democratic leaders said they saw similar and troubling patterns during Wilkie’s recent trips.
They cite three recent official trips as of particular concern: one to North Carolina in August, one to Maine in August, and a trip to Montana in September. In all three cases, Wilkie has appeared in campaign style events with Republican incumbents.
“Our review of publicly available information, media reports, social media posts, and other data suggests that the trips, events, and other related official actions of senior VA leaders are distracting the department from its apolitical mission and potentially using the resources of the department in an attempt to tip the scales in favor of the president and other Republican candidates, ”the couple wrote.
“Further, efforts to engage in overtly political activities may have come at the expense of the legitimate mission functions of the ministry – to provide health care, benefits and memorial services to our country’s veterans. “
Takano and Tester also accused VA management of preventing Congressional Democrats from meeting with VA staff in recent months.
“For example, VA staff were scheduled to attend a virtual town hall event on August 19, 2020 hosted by President Takano’s congressional office regarding the Loma Linda, California facility. Shortly before the event, your staff announced that VA would no longer be participating, ”the couple wrote.
“However, on the same day, VA participated in a different event involving a Republican congressman from Louisiana physically visiting a VA facility. The inconsistent and politically motivated blocking of members of Congress exercising their legislative control and responsibilities is neither acceptable nor permitted by law. “
The couple asked for a full account of the travels of VA executives over the past several months, as well as information on employee training regarding the Hatch Act. They also requested information regarding the planning of online benefits forums and other awareness events to ensure these are not used for partisan purposes.
VA officials said all of the secretary’s trips are available online at the department website. Since August, he has traveled to 12 states: North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, Georgia, Tennessee, Connecticut, Montana, Maryland, Colorado, Wyoming, California and Florida.
Trump administration officials have come under repeated criticism in recent years for ignoring rules regarding separation of official duties and time spent on political activities.
This includes Trump’s own decision to deliver his closing address at the Republican National Convention from the White House lawn, a move that critics say violated several existing laws on the use of public lands for political purposes.