Top Democrats accuse VA secretary Wilkie of misusing taxpayer funds to benefit Trump's campaign
Washington Top Democrats on the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees believe VA Secretary Robert Wilkie "may have misused taxpayer funds and other government assets in an effort to benefit the reelection of President Donald Trump and certain Republican candidates seeking office in 2020," according to a letter sent to Wilkie Tuesday.
The letter, signed by ranking member of the Senate panel, Jon Tester and the chairman of the House committee, Rep. Mark Takano, demands Wilkie turn over "a full accounting of taxpayer-funded travel, attendance at events, and related activities by you and other Department senior leaders that appear to be in violation of the Hatch Act and relevant regulations."
这封信由参议院小组资深成员乔恩·泰斯特(Jon Tester)和众议院委员会主席马克·高野(Mark Takano)签署，要求威尔基交出“你和其他国务院高级领导人似乎违反了”哈奇法“(Hatch Act)和相关规定的纳税人资助的旅行、出席活动和相关活动的完整账目。”
"Leaders at VA have historically risen above partisan politics. Unfortunately, our review of publicly available information, media reports, social media postings, and other data suggests that the travel, events, and other related official actions of VA senior leaders are steering the Department away from its apolitical mission and potentially using Department resources in an attempt to tip the scale in favor of the President and other Republican candidates," they wrote.
"Furthermore, efforts to engage in overtly political activity may have come at the expense of legitimate functions of the Department's mission—to provide health care, benefits, and memorial services to our nation's veterans, as well as care for their families," the letter states.
VA spokesperson Christina Noel quickly pushed back on the allegations, telling CNN Tuesday that "the lawmakers' partisan letter, which has no republican support, calls into question who's being partisan in this situation."
"Since August, the secretary has visited: North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, Georgia, Tennessee, Connecticut, Montana, Maryland, Colorado, Wyoming, California and Florida. During his time in office, Secretary Willkie has traveled in a non-partisan fashion to 49 states—including Montana and California at the request of Senator Tester and Chairman Takano, respectively," Noel said in a statement.
"Secretary Wilkie's official travel is available online for everyone to see, and these trips to hear firsthand from our employees in the field are a fundamental responsibility of any VA secretary. The notion that these visits are somehow improper is absurd," she added.
Still, Tester and Takano provided several examples of senior VA leaders, including Wilkie, "appearing to use the power, reach, and resources of the Department to inappropriately involve themselves in political campaigns to benefit the President and his supporters in Congress," according to a joint statement from the two Democratic lawmakers.
"This includes visits and events in key Presidential or 2020 U.S. Senate battleground states such as Ohio, South Carolina, North Carolina, Michigan, Montana, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Maine, Arizona, Kentucky, and Florida," the statement says.
The lawmakers note that Wilkie traveled to North Carolina in early August "for the dedication of a non-profit veterans' transition facility with an incumbent Senator up for reelection," but around that same time, also participated in "at least one 14-minute videotaped discussion with the same incumbent Senator."
"In early August of 2020, you traveled, along with your Acting Chief of Staff, who was confirmed as Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs, to North Carolina for the dedication of a non-profit veterans' transition facility with an incumbent Senator up for reelection," they wrote.
"Public recordings of your various remarks appear intended to elevate the candidate for reelection. This is one of several visits to North Carolina you made in 2020 where you appeared alongside the incumbent in what appears to be a sustained effort to benefit the candidate," they wrote in their letter to Wilkie.
"As you know well, being a native of the state, North Carolina is the site of a highly competitive 2020 US Senate race, will be the site of an expected competitive 2022 US Senate race, and is a battleground state in the Presidential election. It appears you conducted all of these visits in your official capacity as Secretary," they added.
Tester and Takano also pointed to Wilkie's recent trips to Maine and Montana as potentially problematic. During both visits, Wilkie appeared alongside Republican incumbents and praised their work on veterans issues in public statements, according to the letter.