Former Secretary Shulkin “Set Up a New Email Address” to Discuss VA Business with Mar-a-Lago Crowd
Federal Law Requires that Veterans Affairs Preserve Agency Records
Washington, DC— Today, Democracy Forward demanded that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie comply with the Federal Records Act by recovering and preserving emails discussing VA matters that former Secretary David Shulkin sent from a personal account created to communicate with the “Mar-a-Lago Crowd.” Democracy Forward, along with VoteVets, is also suing the Trump administration for its unlawful reliance on the Crowd—three individuals tied to President Donald Trump’s private Florida club who have advised the VA in violation of federal law.
Reporting has revealed that Secretary Shulkin told members of the Mar-a-Lago Crowd that he had “set up a new email address just for our secure communications on issues in the future,” and that the three men communicated with Secretary Shulkin through this private email account. This reporting builds on existing concerns regarding the Mar-a-Lago Crowd’s improper influence at the VA, which has included advising VA officials on, among other things, Department personnel and staffing issues; the Department’s multi-billion dollar, no-bid health records digitization contract with the Cerner Corporation; and the privatization of certain essential health services currently provided to veterans directly by the VA.
“Creating a private email account to discuss government business away from public scrutiny with politically-connected outside advisors violates our transparency laws,” said Charisma Troiano, Democracy Forward Press Secretary. “VA Secretary Wilkie must follow the law by making these emails part of the public record.”
Failure to preserve Secretary Shulkin’s emails would violate the Federal Records Act. Today’s request for compliance demands the VA fulfill its FRA obligations to:
Notify the Archivist of the United States of any and all instances where federal records created or received by Secretary Shulkin were removed from Departmental custody.
Retrieve from Secretary Shulkin’s custody any and all federal records stored on private accounts and ensure their proper preservation under the FRA, including, as necessary, by referring the potential unlawful alienation of federal records by Secretary Shulkin to the Attorney General for the purpose of initiating an enforcement action.
Review the Department’s records management policy to identify shortcomings of their existing preservation policy.
Democracy Forward requests that the Department confirm it has completed these steps within sixty (60) days of receiving the letter. Should Secretary Wilkie fail to do so, Democracy Forward further asks that the Archivist of the United States refer the matter to the Attorney General for initiation of an enforcement action.
Democracy Forward sent the letter to Secretary Wilkie on April 23, 2019.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.