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U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie speaking in the White House in June 2020. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Four of the largest U.S. veterans groups on Friday called for the immediate dismissal of Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie after a watchdog audit concluded he mishandled an investigation into sexual assault allegations at a veterans hospital, AP reports.

Driving the news: The VA inspector general's report, released Thursday, said that Wilkie sought to discredit a veteran and congressional aide who said she had been assaulted at a VA medical center last year. The report also said Wilkie's staff worked to spread negative information about the woman.

  • Wilkie and other VA officials did not to fully cooperate with VA Inspector General Michael Missal's investigation.
  • The lack of cooperation prevented Missal from concluding whether Wilkie or others violated any government policies or laws while handling the complaint, AP noted.

What they're saying: Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and AMVETS said Wilkie lost the trust of veterans and that they lost all confidence in the secretary.

  • “The accountability, professionalism and respect that our veterans have earned, and quite frankly deserve, is completely lost in this current VA leadership team,” said B.J. Lawrence, executive director of VFW, per AP.
  • “Our veterans cannot wait until Jan. 20, 2021, for a leadership change,” he added. “Secretary Wilkie must resign now.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also called for Wilkie's resignation, saying on Saturday that he "has not only been derelict in his duty to combat sexual harassment, but has been complicit in the continuation of a VA culture that tolerates this epidemic."

  • "He has lost the trust and confidence to serve, and he must immediately resign."

Wilkie, meanwhile, has called the allegations false.

  • "After nearly a year of investigation, interviews with 65 people and analysis of nearly 1.5 million documents, VA’s inspector general cannot substantiate that I sought to investigate or asked others to investigate the Veteran," Wilkie said.

The big picture: Three sources close to the situation told Axios in February that the White House was disappointed by the way Wilkie and the VA handled the sexual assault allegations.

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  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong to put tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

Trump impeachment trial to start week of Feb. 8, Schumer says

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty

The Senate will begin former President Trump's impeachment trial the week of Feb. 8, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday on the Senate floor.

The state of play: Schumer announced the schedule after reaching an agreement with Republicans. The House will transmit the article of impeachment against the former president late Monday.

7 hours ago - Health

CDC extends interval between COVID vaccine doses for exceptional cases

Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty

Patients can space out the two doses of the coronavirus vaccine by up to six weeks if it’s "not feasible" to follow the shorter recommended window, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.

Driving the news: With the prospect of vaccine shortages and a low likelihood that supply will expand before April, the latest changes could provide a path to vaccinate more Americans — a top priority for President Biden.