Trump Surprises Wilkie by Naming Him Veterans Affairs Secretary

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump surprised Robert Wilkie Friday by announcing he would nominate the acting secretary of Veterans Affairs to lead the agency.

“I’ll be informing him in a little while -- he doesn’t know this yet -- that we’re going to be putting his name up for nomination to be secretary of the Veterans administration.” Trump said at a White House event on prison reform.

Turning toward Wilkie, who was in the audience, the president added, “I’m sorry that I ruined the surprise.”

Wilkie offered public thanks to Trump a day earlier at a White House press briefing after the president donated his quarterly salary to the Veterans Affairs Department.

“The president’s gift underscores his promise to do all that he can for veterans, which includes supporting those who care for our veterans,” Wilkie said at the briefing.

Wilkie has been acting secretary at the department while also serving as the Defense Department’s under secretary for personnel and readiness. The position opened after Trump fired then-Secretary David Shulkin in March after a damning inspector general report alleging misuse of taxpayer funds.

Trump’s prior nominee for the Veterans post, White House physician Ronny Jackson, withdrew his nomination last month amid allegations of improper behavior and management lapses. Jackson was accused of repeated drunkenness on the job, over-prescribing of drugs and creating a hostile work environment while White House physician.

The top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Jon Tester of Montana, released a two-page document compiling allegations against Jackson, citing 23 current and former colleagues of the physician.

Tester said Friday he wanted to find out more about Wilkie’s plans for the department.

“Veterans deserve a strong leader who will address VA workforce shortages, reform community care and live up to the promises our nation made veterans and their families,” Tester said in a written statement. “I have a good working relationship with Acting Secretary Wilkie and I look forward to sitting down with him again to have an in-depth conversation about his vision and plan for the VA.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.