Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin appeared to send a message to President Donald Trump by exiling senior White House adviser Jake Leinenkugel, who worked as Trump’s “eyes and ears” in the agency, to a glorified cubicle resembling the “entrance to a mechanical area,” according to an employee who saw it.
His desk was moved in the last week from an office next to Shulkin’s on the 10th floor, which houses executives, to a “cubicle/office” in the middle of the 7th floor — “an island in Siberia,” the employee said.
The tiny slight was one of Shulkin’s final acts at the helm of the 300,000 employee, $200 billion agency before Trump fired him Wednesday.
“You go through this winding area of what looks like would-be utility rooms. There’s no administrative assistant [who] greets you or anything. It’s about 8’x10,’ no natural light, with see-through partitions. I saw his nameplate,” the employee said.
Shulkin, who former President Barack Obama originally appointed to a VA position, battled conservatives like White House Domestic Policy Council veteran affairs adviser Darin Selnick and Leinenkugel, a Trump official embedded in the VA. Both Selnick and Leinenkugel struggled against Shulkin to implement policies conservatives favored at the agency. Leinenkugel noted that Shulkin’s right hand woman, chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson, proudly said she was a Democrat.
“This happened in the last week. I think it could have been the last straw,” the employee said of the desk move.
But with Trump’s firing of Shulkin Wednesday, Leinenkugel may once again be moving back to the corner office.
Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican from Colorado who is former chairman of its oversight panel, cheered the removal. “Dr. Shulkin came from within the VA and did nothing to clean up the culture of bureaucratic incompetence that has defined the leadership at the VA. I’m absolutely convinced that only someone from outside the VA can clean up the VA, and I hope that Admiral [Ronny] Jackson will be Marine Corps tough in getting that mission accomplished. Our veterans deserve better,” Coffman said.
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