Contradicting White House, Ousted VA Sec. Shulkin Says ‘I Did Not Resign’

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 8: Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, March 08, 2018. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
The Washington Post/The Washington Post

David Shulkin, the ousted secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, contradicted the White House Sunday by saying he did not resign from that position. 

Politico on Saturday quoted White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters, who said: “Secretary Shulkin resigned from his position as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Asked Sunday whether he resigned or was fired, Shulkin told CNN’s Jake Tapper: “I would not resign because I’m committed to making sure this job was seen through to the very end.”

“So you were fired?” Tapper asked.

“I did not resign,” Shulkin said.

In an email to TPM Sunday, assistant White House press secretary Ninio Fetalvo said “Our statement still stands” and quoted Walters’ statement to Politico. He did not respond to follow-up questions.

Politico reported Saturday that the distinction could make a world of difference for the VA’s interim leadership, given the language of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

The law gives the President what Politico characterized as “broad authority” to name a temporary successor if a federal agency head “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.”

Trump announced on Twitter Wednesday the he would nominate White House physician Ronny Jackson to take Shulkin’s place as VA secretary. Shulkin told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes the next day that he had spoken with Trump before he was fired Wednesday, but that Trump did not tell him he would be fired.

Trump also declared Wednesday that Robert Wilkie, the Department of Defense’s undersecretary for defense personnel and readiness, would serve as interim VA secretary.

Elsewhere in the interview Sunday, Shulkin expressed frustration, as he did the days immediately following his departure, with political appointees at the top of the VA.

“These individuals,” he said, “when they didn’t see that their way was being adopted, used subversive techniques to be able to change leadership at the VA. That’s the issue that I have concerns with, because there are good people at the VA working very hard to make the changes that we need for our veterans.”

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