VA secretary: Trump appointees in my office are working against me

Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinOvernight Defense: Trump orders Pentagon to help house immigrant families | Mattis says 'space force' needs legislation | VA pick gets hearing date Senate panel schedules hearing on Trump VA pick Press: Drain the swamp – of Scott Pruitt MORE accused political appointees in his department of trying to undermine him over policies he's attempting to pursue.

Shulkin told The New York Times that he was currently investigating some political appointees in the agency for misconduct and might have them removed, claiming they were “trying to undermine the department from within.”

“If there are people here who don’t want the VA to succeed, I want them out,” he told the Times.

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Department officials told the Times that Shulkin had spoken with White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE about his worries over the political appointees.

Shulkin, the only remaining Obama administration appointee, initially had a good relationship with the White House, but has reportedly conflicted with administration officials in recent months.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP lawmakers preparing to vote on bill allowing migrant children to be detained longer than 20 days: report Wasserman Schultz: Infants separated from their parents are in Florida immigrant shelters Ex-White House ethics chief: Sarah Sanders tweet violates ethics laws MORE had campaigned on offering veterans more options for health care, but the Shulkin has backed a more moderate plan that would only offer private care when wait times are too long at veterans’ facilities.

“He has shown total disdain for the White House,” one White House official told the Times. “This isn’t ideological; it is just what the president wants. He wants veterans to have choice.” 

A December email from Jake Leinenkugel, the White House senior adviser on veteran affairs, laid out the possibility of removing some of Shulkin's top staffers and eventually Shulkin himself.

Leinenkugel wrote in the email to a political appointee at the VA that while he initially approved of Shulkin, they were now arguing over staff and policies, according to the Times.

The VA referred the Times’s questions about the department to the White House, which declined to comment for the story.

Shulkin is facing pressure over a VA inspector general report that found he had improperly used taxpayer dollars during a trip to Europe. The report found that Shulkin spent most of the trip sightseeing, misused government resources by having the VA cover the cost of his wife’s airfare and improperly accepted tickets to Wimbledon.

Shulkin has pushed back against the findings, but said that he has reimbursed the government for the cost of his wife’s plane tickets and will pay for the Wimbledon tickets.