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Watchdog reviewing claims Trump’s Veterans Affairs chief sought to discredit staffer who reported sexual assault

The Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs is reviewing claims that VA Secretary Robert Wilkie attempted to discredit a House committee staffer who reported she was sexually assaulted at a VA facility in Washington, CNN has confirmed.

A letter from Inspector General Michael Missal to House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano calls the probe “a high priority for our office.”

Earlier this month, CNN reported that the watchdog was reviewing a request to investigate allegations that Wilkie sought “damaging information” about Andrea Goldstein, a congressional staffer who alleged she was sexually assaulted at a government-run veterans hospital.

The request made by Takano, a California Democrat, came after the panel said in a statement that it “received details from an individual with knowledge of decision making by senior VA leaders that shows they attempted to gather ‘damaging information'” about Andrea Goldstein, one of the congressman’s top aides. CNN has confirmed that “senior VA leaders” refers to Wilkie, according to a source with knowledge.

Christina Mandreucci, a VA spokesperson, told CNN that the Office of the Inspector General informed VA leadership Thursday afternoon that it is conducting the review and that the department “will cooperate fully, just as the department did with the initial investigation into the allegations regarding the Washington DC VA Medical Center.”

“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 in a statement. “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.”

The Washington Post was first to report the IG probe.

Mandreucci told CNN earlier this month that the allegations against Wilkie are not true, saying, “Secretary Wilkie did not and never would do anything of this sort.”

She added that the VA “takes all allegations of sexual assault seriously, which is why the department immediately reported Ms. Goldstein’s allegations to VA’s independent inspector general as well as the deputy attorney general.”

Last fall, Goldstein, a Navy veteran who currently serves as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer, said she was sexually harassed and assaulted at the VA Medical Center in Washington. CNN does not usually name victims of sexual assault but Goldstein has spoken publicly, including in an op-ed for Jezebel, on the situation.

“He used coded language, but the words still stung. The Secretary of the second largest federal agency knew how his words would resonate,” she wrote. “He was implying that I was a liar.”

She wrote in the op-ed, “I learned that the case had been closed because there was insufficient evidence to prove a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

After Missal, the inspector general, concluded the probe into Goldstein’s 2019 sexual assault complaint, Wilkie released a letter to Takano in which he referred to “unsubstantiated claims raised by you and your staff (that) could deter our veterans from seeking the care they need and deserve.” The letter was met with backlash from both the chairman and Missal, who argued that a lack of charges in the case doesn’t mean Goldstein’s allegations are untrue.

Wilkie’s letter “inaccurately characterizes the complainant’s allegation as ‘unsubstantiated,'” Missal wrote to the secretary last month. “That is not an accurate description of the results of our investigation.”

“Reaching a decision to close the investigation with no criminal charges does not mean that the underlying allegation is unsubstantiated,” the letter read.

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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