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White House asserts Shulkin 'resigned' from VA post

White House asserts Shulkin 'resigned' from VA post
© Greg Nash

The White House now says Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinTrump campaign staffer accused of sexual harassment tapped for VA post Overnight Health Care: Rep. Debbie Dingell on the pain and tragedy of the opioids crisis | DEA moves to curb opioid oversupply | Dem says Trump pick opposes VA privatization Trump's VA pick pledges opposition to privatization, senator says MORE resigned from his post this week, despite Shulkin's claim that he was fired by the White House chief of staff, according to Politico. 

Shulkin, who was fired after months of worsening relations with top VA officials and a controversy pointing to his improper use of taxpayer dollars for personal benefit, said this week that he received a phone call from chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE informing him of his removal from the post. 

But when asked by Politico on Saturday about the latest administration shake-up, White House spokeswoman Lindsey Walters said, "Secretary Shulkin resigned from his position as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs." 

A source familiar with the situation told Politico that Shulkin had never tendered a resignation letter, and that he was forced out so quickly he never had the chance to give an official farewell address to the agency's employees. 

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Shulkin's conversation with Kelly reportedly came just hours after a phone call with President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Dems add five candidates to ‘Red to Blue’ program White House notifies Russia that no new sanctions are coming: report Senators push HHS to negotiate lower prices on opioid overdose reversal drug MORE himself, who Shulkin said did not mention the firing. According to Shulkin, the two discussed the "pace" of operations at the nation's second-largest federal department, which has faced pressure under the new administration to remedy the slow wait times for veterans seeking care.

Shulkin said Trump "wasn't happy with the pace" at the agency and wanted someone who could reinvigorate the sluggish department. Shulkin said he agreed. 

"Every Cabinet member serves at the pleasure of the president and it's the president's prerogative to have a team around him that he thinks is doing the job," he said in an interview on Fox News.

Trump later tweeted he was ousting Shulkin, the last remaining Cabinet member appointed by former President Obama, and replacing him with White House physician Adm. Ronny Jackson. To lead the agency before Jackson steps in, Trump bypassed Shulkin's deputy and appointed a senior defense official instead. 

Shulkin has since cited the "toxic" work environment in Washington, D.C., that exacerbated his struggles in the position and said there is a "brutal power struggle" going on at the VA.