Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin says he was fired from his position last week, defying the White House’s claim that he resigned.
“I came to fight for our veterans, and I had no intention of giving up,” Shulkin told NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet The Press” Sunday. “There would be no reason for me to resign.”
Shulkin, whose departure as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs was announced Wednesday on Twitter by President Donald Trump, said he never offered his resignation nor was he asked to submit a letter of resignation. A day earlier, White House spokeswoman Lindsey Walters told Politico that Shulkin had “resigned from his position.”
“Our statement still stands,” Ninio Fetalvo, assistant White House press secretary, told HuffPost in an email Sunday when asked for comment about Shulkin’s insistence that he was fired.
White House chief of staff John Kelly alerted Shulkin of his termination “shortly before” Trump tweeted about it Wednesday, Shulkin added. He said his dismissal was “somewhat of a surprise,” especially since “President Trump and I actually spoke the day that he sent the tweet out, just a few hours before.”
“We had set up a meeting for the very next day where I was going to meet with him at 11 in the morning,” Shulkin told Todd.
The White House on Monday walked back its statement that Shulkin resigned.
“The key here is that the president has made a decision,” Mercedes Schlapp, White House director of strategic communications, said during an appearance on “Fox & Friends” Monday. “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 said Kelly “offered him the opportunity to resign.” She added: “At this point, the president said it was time to move on in terms of veterans affairs. He thanks Secretary Shulkin for his service.”
Moments earlier, Shulkin appeared on CNN’s “New Day” and repeated that Trump fired him.
Trump said he intends to replace Shulkin, who had served in the department under the Obama administration, with Ronny L. Jackson, the presidential physician, he tweeted Wednesday. Shulkin’s ousting followed weeks of speculation that Trump wanted to remove him.
Shulkin was the subject of an inspector general’s investigation in February, which found he committed ethics violations on a trip to Europe last summer. His extravagant 10-day trip to London and Copenhagen was planned under the guise of business travel but included only 3½ working days while costing the VA at least $122,334, the report found.
Shulkin denied any “ethical violations” during his tenure as the Veteran Affairs secretary on Sunday and suggested his termination had little to do with the inspector general’s findings. He has pushed back against conservative administration officials who believe veterans’ health care services should be increasingly privatized.
“I do not believe there was any misuse of government funds,” Shulkin said. “I do believe that there were no ethical violations here, that this was being used in the political context to exploit the situation. And I do believe that the issue at hand is the future of VA and whether it’s going to be privatized or not.”
Watch Shulkin’s full interview with NBC’s “Meet The Press” below:
This article has been updated to include White House acknowledgement on Monday that Shulkin didn’t voluntarily resign.