Luke Rosiak, DCNF
Former Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s troubles with the White House began over what was perceived as a pattern of wanting special treatment and luxuries, including an insistence by Shulkin he be able to use Camp David, the president’s compound in Maryland, as a vacation spot, a senior official told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
A senior official with knowledge of Shulkin’s activities detailed a litany of examples of efforts to use his job to “live the high life,” including how he “wanted to bring his wife on a trip with Melania [Trump] but couldn’t do that and had a temper tantrum.”
At a Hannukah party where officials got a plus-one, Shulkin insisted on being able to bring his son in addition to his wife. “He asked so many times that the White House was on the lookout where if his son showed up, security knew not to let him in,” the official said.
“He wanted to be the exception. He would harass people in the White House and say ‘I want to do this,’ and he’d keep asking different people until he found someone who would say yes,’” he continued.
Since being fired by President Donald Trump May 28 following a damning inspector general’s report, Shulkin has gone on a media tour claiming he was pushed out for being a liberal bulwark against conservative efforts to “privatize” the VA’s health care services. The same media that made Shulkin’s travel an issue before the IG report and pilloried him as a corrupt Trump official for a month following the report now cast him as an icon of the resistance inside a Republican administration.
The senior insider said this is revisionist history and that the truth is classic Trump. Shulkin’s firing had little to do with politics and more to do with personality, he told The Daily Caller News Foundation. A more accurate storyline might be that Trump’s sensitivity to faux paus and social standing were set off by a subordinate who constantly seemed to be causing trouble by wanting to be the VIP.
“He’s trying to be a martyr for privatization, but he lost the trust of the president for reasons that weren’t even about policy– it was about him,” the source said.
The source also detailed a “bunker-like” mentality in the final weeks of Shulkin’s VA in which Shulkin took the elevator passes from senior Trump political appointees.
“There’s a special elevator for senior officials to get up to the 10th floor. He just closed off the 10th floor suite doors, disconnected some of the guys’ cards so they couldn’t get up there. He stopped bringing the political appointees into the senior management meetings, except the deputy. He wanted to create a bunker mentality until he left,” the source alleged.
In a move straight out of the movie “Office Space,” Shulkin moved the desk of White House liaison Jake Leinenkugel from an office next to his own, into a cubicle in an area likened to a mechanical closet.
The VA’s inspector general (IG) claimed that Shulkin took a nine-day trip to Europe for three days of work. The IG also alleged his chief of staff falsified documentation so that taxpayers would pay for Shulkin’s wife to attend the trip, and Shulkin’s wife used a VA employee to carefully plan their sightseeing. The findings angered the White House in part because it fit a pattern they had already observed, sources close to the White House said — one of Shulkin as prima donna.
A second source close to the VA lashed out at the media, particularly The Washington Post, for making Shulkin’s luxury travel the issue of sustained critical coverage only to drop that angle as soon as he provided them a more compelling storyline — the Trump administration pushed him out for being insufficiently conservative.
One of the items in the IG report was that Shulkin specifically misled The Washington Post when confronted about ethics issues, the source said. On top of that, the source noted, the media would ordinarily be the first to focus on how Trump allowed personal quibbles, rather than the nuances of policy, to dictate personnel decisions.
The Daily Caller News Foundation reported this week that Shulkin had a second Europe trip with his wife scheduled for April — a 10-day trip to Vatican City for a three-day conference. TheDCNF learned of the news during the weeks that Shulkin’s political future was still in limbo but did not publish the story because VA staff denied it. Emails later showed that Shulkin had personally ordered a staffer to deny the existence of this trip to TheDCNF.
Shulkin told The Daily Caller on camera that the trip was “not happening,” but after TheDCNF threatened to file a Freedom of Information Act request, the VA acknowledged that Shulkin actively sought to go on that trip and fought not to cancel it.
The senior official said Shulkin “arranged for himself to be invited. Everyone was like, ‘Why are you going on another trip like that?’After the IG report, people said you should cancel that. The office of Cabinet Affairs in the White House monitors all of cabinet officials’ trips, and they’d been asking him to cancel it. And he said no, I’m not going to. They had to put a lot of pressure on him for weeks to get him to cancel it.”
A private law firm Shulkin hired to navigate the scandal did not return a request to make him available for comment.
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