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VA watchdog investigating allegations Wilkie sought to discredit aide who reported sexual assault

VA watchdog investigating allegations Wilkie sought to discredit aide who reported sexual assault
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The Department of Veterans Affairs’s internal watchdog is investigating claims that Secretary Robert WilkieRobert Leon WilkieHillicon Valley: Department of Justice sues Google | House Republicans push for tech bias hearing | Biden drawing more Twitter engagement for first time House Republicans push VA for details on recent data breach Overnight Defense: National Guard says no federal requests for election security help | Dems accuse VA head of misusing resources | Army official links COVID-19 to troop suicides MORE attempted to discredit an aide to a top Democrat after she reported she was sexually assaulted at the agency’s hospital.

The department’s Inspector General Michael J. Missal told representatives in a letter Thursday that he plans to open a full probe into Wilkie. 

“This matter is a high priority for our office,” he wrote in a letter to lawmakers obtained by The Hill.

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The secretary denies he asked people to look up dirt on the woman, Andrea Goldstein. Goldstein is a senior policy adviser on female veterans issue on Rep. Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoOvernight Defense: National Guard says no federal requests for election security help | Dems accuse VA head of misusing resources | Army official links COVID-19 to troop suicides Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Democrats accuse VA head of misusing resources to stump for Trump, vulnerable GOP senators MORE’s (D-Calif.) team.  

A senior VA official claimed Wilkie told members of his staff to discredit Goldstein’s credibility after she said a man groped and propositioned her in the agency’s D.C. Medical Center, The Washington Post reported. 

The secretary allegedly told his staff that Goldstein, who also serves as an intelligence officer in the Navy reserve, filed many complaints of sexual misconduct while serving in the Navy, three current or former senior VA officials told the Post. The sources said Wilkie would share information with his senior staff on at least six occasions. 

Goldstein counters that she filed one formal complaint against a Navy department head, who she said sexually assaulted her multiple times and was removed from his position. 

Takano and six other senators are calling for the investigation.

“Secretary Wilkie’s decision to cast doubt, paint the individual as dishonest, and discredit her traumatic experience demonstrates VA’s continued inability to ensure women veterans are welcomed and supported by the country they have served,” the senators wrote in a letter dated Monday.

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High-profile lawyer Mark Zaid, who represents the whistleblower, is now representing Goldstein, he announced in tweets, directing one at Wilkie, saying “We intend to ensure @DeptVetAffairs takes her concerns, & those of other assault victims, seriously.”

Three sources close to the situation told Axios that the White House was disappointed in the department and Wilkie’s handling of the situation.

VA Department press secretary Christina Mandreucci said in a statement that the department will "cooperate fully, just as the department did with the initial investigation."

"To be clear, the only investigation into Ms. Goldstein’s allegations was that of the independent inspector general and U.S. Attorney – an investigation Sec. Wilkie requested immediately upon learning of the allegations," she said.

"That investigation was closed with no charges filed, and neither the independent inspector general nor the U.S. attorney has recommended any corrective or personnel actions, or general suggestions for improvement to VA."

Mandreucci also cited "significant process" the agency has made in supporting women veterans. 

The secretary fired his deputy secretary James Byrne earlier this month, saying he didn’t “gel” with other agency leaders. Wilkie has committed to serving through the election, a senior administration official told the Post.