Emails show top VA diversity official was told not to condemn Charlottesville violence 

A top Trump appointee at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reportedly told the agency’s chief diversity officer not to condemn white supremacists after the violent rally in Charlottesville, Va., according to new emails obtained by The Washington Post on Wednesday.

Georgia Coffey, a VA senior executive, pushed the agency to issue a statement condemning the “repugnant display of hate and bigotry by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan,” according to the emails from August 2017.

{mosads}Her pressure came after Trump blamed “both sides” for the deadly clash at the rally between white supremacists and counterprotesters. One woman died and dozens more were injured.

Coffey, a nationally known expert on workplace diversity and race relations, shared a draft of her remarks with the public affairs office just days after the rally. Her prepared statement called Charlottesville “a tragic reminder that our work in civil rights and inclusion is not finished.”

She wanted the remarks to be sent to employees  — more than 40 percent of the VA’s employees are minorities — and the public.

Then-VA Secretary David Shulkin had already made waves earlier that week when he broke with Trump by saying the violence “outraged” him.

John Ullyot, the VA’s chief communications official, reportedly did not want any additional comments about the incident to come from the agency.

“John Ullyot does not want to post the message, as the Secretary previously made statements in the news media on this topic earlier this week,” according to a response from a public affairs staffer.

After a back-and-forth in emails, Ullyot wrote that he wanted the statement pared down. He told Coffey she could keep the part emphasizing a “strong commitment” to equal opportunity and diversity.

Coffey responded by saying she was worried Ullyoy’s edits would “dilute my message and fail to convey the sense of condemnation that I hope we all feel.”

Ullyot then added that he and Shulkin agreed that the secretary’s name should be removed from the statement.

The emails, which were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Project on Government Oversight, show that Coffey’s staff was worried she would get in trouble. They told her to tone down her remarks like Ullyot suggested, but she refused.

Coffey later published the full remarks under her name in a monthly newsletter posted by the VA’s diversity office.

It was removed and she was reportedly reprimanded. She retired from the VA shortly after and now works as senior manager for diversity and inclusion at Lockheed Martin.

One anonymous source told the newspaper that Ullyot was operating under a directive from the White House not to bring more attention to Trump’s controversial statements.

The VA never received White House guidance, VA spokesman Curt Cashour told the Post.

Cashour said Shulkin had “dictated explicitly to John [Ullyot] how he wanted this particular issue handled.”

Shulkin was “adamant that VA employees keep their personal views on the Charlottesville issue out of official VA communications, as Shulkin had done himself in public comments two days beforehand,” Cashour added.

“John was simply ensuring that Coffey understood and followed Shulkin’s guidance,” he continued.

Shulkin, who was removed from his position in March, told the Post that he didn’t remembering discussing the agency’s response with Ullyot.

“I’ve been pretty public about my opinions on the Charlottesville events … and of course I think all Americans should express their views,” he said.

Tags Charlottesville Charlottesville David Shulkin David Shulkin Georgia Coffey John Ullyot rally Veterans Affairs white supremacist
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