David Shulkin, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, may be the only semi-competent member of Donald Trump’s Cabinet (and even he is a hard maybe) and, according to the Washington Post, he’s worried he may be the next high-ranking official to get axed.
This anecdote, contained in the Post’s reporting, paints a clear picture of the backstabbing, dysfunction, and outright paranoia that has pervaded the pit of vipers that is the Trump administration (emphasis mine):
[Shulkin] has canceled the morning meetings once attended by several of President Trump’s political appointees—members of his senior management team —gathering instead with aides he trusts not to miscast his remarks. Access to Shulkin’s 10th-floor executive suite was recently revoked for several people he has accused of lobbying the White House to oust him. He and his public-affairs chief have not spoken in weeks.
And in a sign of how deeply the secretary’s trust in his senior staff has eroded, an armed guard now stands outside his office.
The news about the armed guard comes after a week of shakeups at the VA. On Wednesday, Shulkin announced he would reorganize the agency and increase federal oversight at VA medical centers in 12 states. This coincided with two regional directors announcing their retirements and one being reassigned.
Shulkin, who oversees the second largest federal agency, is also the only holdover Cabinet appointee from Barack Obama’s administration. Last month, he came under scrutiny after a VA inspector general’s report found Shulkin’s chief of staff covered the tracks for Shulkin’s wife when she took a 10-day, taxpayer-funded trip to Europe last summer.
Shulkin’s distrust of his own senior management team, which the newspaper reports have openly defied the department’s chain of command for weeks, speaks to the yawning chasm of bad faith between some veteran officials trying to preserve the agency’s mission (like updating the VA’s outdated health records system) and Trump appointees looking to deplete them. According to the Post, Shulkin has also tried to fire at least six senior aides and said White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has given him his blessing to do so.
This is just the most recent example of infighting that has become endemic to federal agencies in the Trump era. In just over a year, turnover at the White House has far exceeded the turnover that other recent presidential administrations see over the course of eight years. So it might make sense for people like Shulkin to be looking over their shoulders, wondering if they’ll be the next one out the door.
Trump, for his part, has strongly disputed any narrative about discord in his ranks. After economic advisor Gary Cohn’s resignation earlier this week, the president tweeted:
No Chaos, only Energy.