POLITICS
04/02/2018 08:53 am ET Updated Apr 02, 2018

White House Walks Back Claim That David Shulkin Resigned

Shulkin says Trump fired him as secretary of veterans affairs. The White House, until Monday, claimed he quit.

The White House on Monday changed its story about David Shulkin’s departure from the Department of Veterans Affairs, acknowledging he didn’t voluntarily quit.

Shulkin was asked to resign as secretary of veterans affairs, but President Donald Trump ultimately decided to remove him, Mercedes Schlapp, White House director of strategic communications, suggested on “Fox & Friends.”

White House chief of staff John Kelly “called Shulkin and gave him the opportunity to resign,” Schlapp said. “Obviously, the key here is that the president has made a decision. He wanted a change in the Department of Veterans Affairs. He wanted more results coming out of that particular department. ... That is why he moved to make this change.”

Schlapp’s comments contradict a White House statement on Saturday that said Shulkin resigned. Shulkin on Sunday insisted on NBC’s “Meet The Press” that he was fired.

“I came to fight for our veterans, and I had no intention of giving up,” Shulkin said. “There would be no reason for me to resign.”

Shulkin said Kelly told him he’d been terminated “shortly before” Trump tweeted about it on Wednesday, adding that he neither offered his resignation nor submitted a letter of resignation. He said his dismissal was “somewhat of a surprise,” since “President Trump and I actually spoke the day that he sent the tweet out, just a few hours before.”

The White House on Sunday doubled down on its claim that Shulkin resigned.

“Our statement still stands,” Ninio Fetalvo, assistant White House press secretary, told HuffPost in an email, when asked for comment about Shulkin’s insistence that he was fired.

Shulkin, on CNN’s “New Day” Monday, reiterated that Trump fired him.

Moments later, Schlapp walked back White House weekend statements about Shulkin’s departure on “Fox & Friends.”

The Trump administration’s apparent reluctance to confirm Shulkin’s firing could have legal implications, reported CNN. Trump’s pick for interim leader of veterans affairs, Defense Department official Robert Wilkie, could be challenged under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998.

This law allows the president to temporarily fill an executive branch vacancy created by a person who “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.” The language surrounding terminations is less clear, which could jeopardize Wilkie’s authority.

This article has been updated to include information about the legal implication of Shulkin’s ouster.

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