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VA watchdog says it did not refer officials for potential prosecution

VA watchdog says it did not refer officials for potential prosecution
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The government watchdog overseeing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Thursday denied media reports that officials had referred a case involving Secretary Robert WilkieRobert WilkieBiden's nominee for VA secretary isn't a veteran — does it matter? Biden VA pick faces 'steep learning curve' at massive agency Two headstones with swastikas removed from Texas veterans cemetery MORE to federal prosecutors for possible criminal investigation.

A spokesperson for VA Inspector General Michael Missal told Connecting Vets on Thursday that his office "never presented a criminal case to federal prosecutors to seek prosecution referrals as to the Secretary or any other VA official in this matter."

The statement came after The Washington Post had reported Wednesday that the secretary was referred for possible criminal prosecution by the inspector general, though charges were never filed because prosecutors reportedly believed that not enough evidence could be found to convict Wilkie.

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The Post said the reported effort focused on allegations that the secretary attempted to publicly disparage the credibility of Navy veteran Andrea Goldstein, a policy adviser to Rep. Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoUS tensions with China risk fueling anti-Asian harassment at home Democrats rush to Biden's defense on border surge K Street navigates virtual inauguration week MORE (D-Calif.), after she reported being groped by an unidentified man at a VA facility.

The Post also reported that Missal's investigation, launched in February, looked into allegations raised by Takano that Wilkie had potentially interfered in the investigation into Goldstein's assault, while he had also allegedly lied to IG officials during their own investigation. The secretary was also accused of directing a public affairs official at the VA to spread the idea to reporters that Goldstein had possibly made up her claims. 

While the VA inspector general's report, released Thursday, did substantiate Takano's claims that the secretary had worked to discredit his aide after she came forward with her allegation — including by using misleading language with reporters covering the issue — officials insisted it never reached the level of being sent to prosecutors for further investigation or charges.

One former VA official told The Post that Wilkie believed the allegation of sexual assault, and news of the investigation, was part of a shadowy effort by Takano and House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: Democrats eye two-part infrastructure push; Michigan coronavirus cases surge Pence pleaded with military officials to 'clear the Capitol' on Jan. 6: AP Democrats see political winner in tax fight MORE (D-Calif.) to publicly damage his or the agency's image.

“He believed it was a left-wing conspiracy led by Pelosi,” the official said.

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Wilkie in a statement to The Post denied that he had done anything improper in the course of the investigation into Goldstein's assault. The inspector general initially declined to comment Wednesday to the newspaper for their reporting regarding the investigation.

“After nearly a year of investigation, interviews with 65 people and analysis of nearly 1.5 million documents, VA’s inspector general cannot substantiate that I sought to investigate or asked others to investigate the Veteran. That’s because these allegations are false,” said Wilkie.

– Updated Dec. 11 at 2:15 p.m. to reflect the VA inspector general's denial.