An official at the Department of Veterans Affairs pushed to release a strongly worded statement condemning the white supremacist violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, but was told to keep quiet, according to new emails reviewed by the Washington Post.
In the days after Charlottesville, the Trump administration was trying to control the negative press around President Trump’s comments that “many sides” were to blame for the violence at the protest, which included a variety of far-right groups. The VA’s secretary at the time, David Shulkin, told reporters that he was “outraged” by the violence.
At the time, Georgia Coffey, who worked at the VA as a diversity officer, sent an email to VA chief communications official John Ullyot recommending that the agency release a statement about the events in Charlottesville. She wrote that the agency should condemn a “repugnant display of hate and bigotry by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan,” according to the Post. Ullyot responded that he had a directive from the Trump administration to stay quiet on the subject.
From the Post:
A statement from VA leaders was necessary, Coffey wrote in one email to Ullyot, because the agency’s workforce was unsettled by the uproar caused by the Charlottesville violence. Minorities make up more than 40 percent of VA’s 380,000 employees, the federal government’s second-largest agency.
Ullyot told Coffey to stand down, the emails show. A person familiar with their dispute, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Post that Ullyot was enforcing a directive from the White House, where officials were scrambling to contain the fallout from Trump’s comments, and they did not want government officials to call further attention to the controversy.
The emails were released by the watchdog group American Oversight, which obtained them via a Freedom of Information Act request.
VA spokesman Curt Cashour denied to the Post that the agency received guidance from the White House on the matter as Ullyot describes.
Coffey, who declined to comment, resigned from her position not long after Charlottesville. Her former colleagues told the Post she felt a lack of support from the Trump administration.
Ullyot worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign before joining his administration. He is now the VA’s assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs.