In Response to Watchdogs’ Lawsuit, Shulkin Confirms to Court He’s Turned Over 18k+ Private Emails with “Mar-a-Lago Council,” Other Parties While in Office
American Oversight and Democracy Forward Compelled Production of Records and Compliance with Federal Records Act
Washington, D.C. — Yesterday, in a sworn declaration, former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin told a federal court that he has produced all emails pertaining to government business that he sent or received on two personal email accounts while heading the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Shulkin’s admission in court came in response to a lawsuit brought by American Oversight and Democracy Forward against the VA for its failure to preserve the government records in violation of the Federal Records Act.
Shulkin has previously acknowledged he “set up a new email address” to privately discuss VA policymaking with a group of three men — dubbed the “Mar-a-Lago Council” — who are tied to President Trump through his golf club and who unlawfully influenced VA policy on a sweeping range of issues. The VA’s unlawful reliance on the Mar-a-Lago Council to make policy is the subject of separate, ongoing litigation brought by Democracy Forward.
In response to former Secretary Shulkin’s sworn statement, Democracy Forward and American Oversight voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit against the department and issued the following joint statement:
Today’s disclosure is a win for accountability and transparency in government.
Federal law requires that all business conducted on behalf of the American people be preserved and kept as part of the public record. That includes business conducted by private email.
Former Secretary Shulkin set up and used private email accounts to circumvent transparency requirements and evade public scrutiny as he worked behind closed doors with Trump’s Mar-a-Lago associates to make policy affecting our nation’s veterans. Until confronted with our lawsuit, Secretary Shulkin did not produce his private emails to the VA, and the VA did not do its job and recover the records as required by law.
We are proud our litigation compelled the production and preservation of Secretary Shulkin’s private emails. The public deserves to know what was done on their behalf — and just how deep President Trump’s associates’ influence ran at the very highest echelons of the VA.
On October 30, a federal court denied the Trump administration’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit. The court explained that Shulkin“used a private email account for official agency business, including corresponding with ‘Mar-a-Lago associates’ of President Trump about agency policy, in violation of the FRA.”
The lawsuit against the VA was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on August 21, 2019. Read the complaint here. The notice and stipulation of voluntary dismissal — including Secretary Shulkin’s declaration — was filed on December 21, 2020. Read it here.
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.
American Oversight is a non-partisan, nonprofit ethics watchdog and is the top Freedom of Information Act litigator investigating the Trump administration. Since our launch in March 2017, we have filed more than 100 public records lawsuits, uncovering and publishing tens of thousands of documents including senior officials’ calendars, emails, and expense records. Relying on FOIA and other public records laws, we file requests to uncover misconduct that otherwise would not see daylight, and then we harness the independent power of the courts to force the administration to obey the law.