The chaos of the Trump administration continued to rage this week with the abrupt firing of a top staffer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has experienced plenty of departmental turmoil while Donald Trump has remained in the White House. Now, deputy secretary James Byrne is the one who got ousted, following a botched handling of a House staff member’s report of being sexually assaulted at the VA hospital in D.C. It’s unclear what exact role that Byrne may have played in the response, but the now former top official seems to at least have been made into someone to take the heat.
In other words, they might be resorting to kicking out fall guys rather than taking the situation seriously. Byrne was originally confirmed by the Senate in a vote last September — when just eleven Democratic Senators voted the nomination down — but he’s now out. The department’s head Robert Wilkie says that the firing, which is effective immediately, was “due to loss of confidence in Mr. Byrne’s ability to carry out his duties.”
Axios adds the following, referring back to the sexual assault case:
‘The White House was disappointed by the way Wilkie and the VA handled the situation, according to three sources close to the situation. Facing pressure from the White House, Wilkie asked for Byrne’s resignation Monday morning.’
But will this firing actually represent any substantive change in the management? Under the Trump-appointed Wilkie, there’s little sign of that.
Wilkie personally had a hand in a major failure, when he claimed to House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Mark Takano (D-Calif.) that the staff member’s claims of sexual assault were “unsubstantiated.” The Veterans Affairs Inspector General Michael Missal, who actually led the internal agency investigation into the case, flatly refuted Wilkie’s ignorant and incorrect conclusion.
Besides noting in Axios’s description that he had “thoroughly briefed Wilkie and Byrne on the decision” concluding the investigation, in a letter to Wilkie, Missal wrote:
‘Reaching a decision to close the investigation with no criminal charges does not mean that the underlying allegation is unsubstantiated.’
Indeed — the large portion of assault victims whose attackers go uncharged can attest to that.
The same department got rocked by other scandals under its previous chair, David Shulkin, who was actually a holdover from the Obama administration that, for whatever reason, the president initially had fill that position.
Shulkin was ousted after a scandal emerged over claims that he’d used government money as a vacation fund for his wife, but he claims that he was actually pressured out of the job because of his opposition to Trump administration political appointees’ push to privatize the VA system.
The chaos has not been limited to this agency. In the administration’s earliest days, it set records for the rate of its senior staff turnover. One of those fired senior staff members has loomed especially large recently. In his new book, Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton has revealed majorly incriminating details about Trump’s scheme to bribe Ukraine.