- (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
- In a tense email exchange reviewed by The Washington Post, an official at the Department of Veterans Affairs was directed not to condemn white supremacy in the aftermath of deadly Charlottesville protests.
- The agency’s diversity chief wanted to issue a strong condemnation of “white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan,” the emails show.
- A communications official reportedly agreed to let her issue a personal statement, but asked that she remove “incendiary language” before doing so.
- She instead released her full statement, the Post reported, and then was reprimanded and retired.
In the aftermath of deadly protests in Charlottesville in August 2017, the chief diversity officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs pushed to issue a statement condemning white supremacy – only to be silenced by a White House appointee at the agency, The Washington Post reported.
Emails provided to the Post by watchdog organization American Oversight reportedly show a tense exchange between the two officials.
Georgia Coffey, the diversity chief, believed a strong statement was appropriate because “the agency’s workforce was unsettled by the uproar,” the Post reported. The VA secretary at the time, David Shulkin, told reporters he was “outraged” by the violence.
According to the Post, in her emails Coffey wanted to send a clear message that the VA stood against the “repugnant display of hate and bigotry by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan.”
John Ullyot, a top communications official at the VA, told Coffey to stand down, the Post reported. Ullyot reportedly told Coffey that, at the direction of Secretary Shulkin, such a statement was unnecessary because Shulkin had already addressed the violence with the press. An anonymous source told Post reporter Lisa Rein that the direction to silence Coffey’s statement came from the White House amid efforts to calm the uproar caused by President Donald Trump’s controversial response to the protests.
VA spokesman Curt Cashour told the Post the White House did not issue the direction.
Shulkin reportedly encouraged VA employees to share their personal views, as he had done. But Ullyot asked Coffey to remove incendiary language before releasing her personal statement, which she felt would dilute her intended message, the Post reported.
Coffey released her full statement, and was summarily reprimanded before her retirement from the agency, according to the Post.
Coffey and Ullyot declined to comment on the story. Shulkin told the Post he did not recall discussing the VA’s response with Ullyot, and while Shulkin was copied on numerous emails between Ullyot and Coffey, the email exchange obtained by Business Insider does not contain direction from Shulkin about how he wanted Coffey’s message handled.
In an emailed statement to Business Insider, Cashour said Shulkin had explicitly directed Ullyot on how he wanted the issue handled, and that the email chain, on which the secretary was copied, serves as proof.
“For former Sec. Shulkin to say that he doesn’t recall that he directed Ullyot to share his directive is belied by the paper trail contradicting his statement,” Cashour said in an email. “This is more sour grapes from a dismissed doctor.”