Feb 27, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Watchdog opens probe into VA secretary over handling of sexual assault claim

In this image, Robert Wilkie sits in a suit and tie.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Fox Business Network’s "The Evening Edit" on Jan. 7. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

The Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General Michael Missal said Thursday he had opened an investigation into VA Secretary Robert Wilkie after lawmakers demanded an inquiry into his handling of a sexual misconduct report, the Washington Post reports.

Context: Wilkie allegedly "worked to discredit" the credibility of Democratic aide and veteran Andrea Goldstein after she reported last fall "that a man groped and propositioned her in the main lobby of the agency's D.C. Medical Center," a senior VA official told the Post.

  • Goldstein is senior policy adviser on female veterans issues to Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
  • Takano was told by a senior VA official that Wilkie had discovered Goldstein reported several sexual misconduct allegations while serving in the Navy, and that he suggested to staff that they use this history to discredit her, per the Post.

The big picture: Three sources close to the situation told Axios that the White House was disappointed by the way Wilkie and the VA handled the situation. Under pressure, Wilkie asked for Deputy Secretary James Byrne's resignation earlier this month, though the VA denies that Byrne's dismissal was related to the sexual assault case.

The other side: The independent inspector general told VA leadership that his office is reviewing the allegations, VA press secretary Christina Mandreucci told Axios. The department said it will cooperate fully with the lawsuit.

  • "To be clear, the only investigation into Ms. Goldstein’s allegations was that of the independent inspector general and U.S. Attorney — an investigation Sec. Wilkie requested immediately upon learning of the allegations," Mandreucci said, noting that the investigation "was closed with no charges filed."

What they're saying:

"Media reports on a complaint made to the House Veterans Affairs Committee allege that between October 2019 and January 2020, Secretary Wilkie sought damaging information about the veteran, including attempting to investigate her military record. Additionally, according to media reports, the Secretary discussed the information he had collected with other VA officials and even a member of Congress, and suggested to Department public affairs officials that the
information could be used to undermine the veterans' allegations."
letter to the IG

Go deeper: The VA's silencing of whistleblowers

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