WASHINGTON (AP) - Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is making it clear he was fired from his job amid conflicting claims from the White House.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters on Sunday told The Associated Press that Shulkin had “resigned” from his job when President Donald Trump abruptly announced via Twitter last Wednesday that he was nominating White House doctor Ronny Jackson to replace him.
But in television interviews, Shulkin said he had not submitted a resignation letter, or planned to, and was only told of Trump’s decision shortly before the Twitter announcement. He said he had spoken to Trump by phone earlier that day about VA improvements, with no mention of his job status, and was scheduled to meet with the president the next morning.
“I came to run the Department of Veterans Affairs because I’m committed to veterans,” Shulkin said. “And I would not resign, because I’m committed to making sure this job was seen through to the very end.”
The semantics could be relevant to Trump’s ability to name an acting VA secretary to temporarily fill Shulkin’s place. Last week, Trump named Defense Department official Robert Wilkie to the acting position, bypassing Shulkin’s deputy secretary, Tom Bowman. Bowman has come under criticism for being too moderate to push Trump’s agenda.
Under federal law, a president has wide authority to temporarily fill a federal agency job if someone “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.” There is no mention of a president having that authority if the person is fired. Still, it’s unclear if courts would seek to draw a legal distinction between a firing and a forced resignation, if that is indeed what happened to Shulkin.
The day after announcing that he was replacing Shulkin, Trump told a rally in Richfield, Ohio, that he had been dissatisfied with efforts to improve VA. Shulkin had enjoyed Trump’s support for much of his first year in the administration, but that eroded in February after a bruising ethics scandal and political infighting at VA.