The Trump administration’s pathological inability to tell the truth has struck again.
Today, Politico is reporting that the White House is now claiming that former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin tendered his resignation rather than being fired from the position that Trump used as a reward to give his personal physician for delivering positive messages about his health.
Unfortunately, this was news to Shulkin, who has been quite emphatic in his comments since he left the VA that he was forced out by conservative opponents who want the Veterans Administration privatized so they can further loot the federal treasury for profit.
The circumstances of Shulkin’s departure are significant because of the uncertain language in the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 which governs the rules under which the president can temporarily appoint an acting official to fill a vacancy at a federal agency if its current occupant “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.”
Rather than appoint the person next in line for the office in the VA hierarchy, Shulkin’s immediate deputy, Trump pushed Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Robert Wilkie into the role of the acting leader of the department while his physician Dr. Ronnie Jackson awaits Senate confirmation.
With legal analysts noting that the governing federal legislation doesn’t specifically allow the president to appoint a replacement in the event of the dismissal of an agency leader, Trump’s action could result in lawsuits against the move that could slow the already glacial progress in improving the VA’s care of veterans even further.
This blatant misrepresentation of the circumstances of Shulkin’s departure can only be explained as an attempt to circumvent the rules and avoid a challenge to Trump’s personnel choice.
Deputy Secretary Thomas Bowman, who would normally have filled in as secretary after Shulkin was fired, is a known opponent of privatization efforts at the Veterans Administration and has clashed with the political appointees in the White House over the issue.
If Trump is allowed to get away with this lie as a way to get around the rules of succession at the VA, he could do the same thing if he decides to get rid of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, putting his own choice in as an interim AG rather than having Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein step in as the current rules would mandate.
No matter what the ultimate outcome at the VA may wind up being, the routine and flagrant use of falsehoods to attain policy goals demonstrates the cynical disregard of the law and of public opinion in the Trump administration as it continues to dismantle everything positive about our country. It’s almost as if Trump is following the agenda of an enemy state that is looking to weaken our nation and its democratic traditions.
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