One of the top staffers for VA Secretary David Shulkin, M.D., asked Congress to help push him out, according to a report from USA Today.
Two sources told the newspaper that John Ullyot, the Department of Veterans Affairs' assistant secretary for public affairs, asked a senior aide to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to convince legislators to contact the White House and call for Shulkin's ouster.
Shulkin has been under scrutiny for several weeks after a report from the VA's Office of Inspector General revealed taxpayer funds were used to pay for a trip he and his wife took to Europe that included tourist activities and tickets to Wimbledon.
The trip was planned for Shulkin to meet with Danish healthcare officials and attend a summit in London. The OIG has called for Shulkin to repay the costs of his wife's travel—about $4,300—and the price of the tennis tickets, which he has agreed to do.
Ullyot contacted the aide on Feb. 15, the day after the OIG released its report and the same day Shulkin was grilled at a congressional hearing, USA Today reported. The call, according to the newspaper, was initiated by Press Secretary Curt Cashour.
On the call, Cashour criticized Shulkin for his allegation that the travel expenses were approved because someone hacked into Chief of Staff Vivieca Wright Simpson's email account—a claim he has since retracted, saying she was impersonated, but hacking did not occur. Simpson has since retired.
Ullyot was then put on the line, where he asked the aide for help in removing Shulkin, according to the article. He expressed confidence that President Donald Trump would fire Shulkin the following Tuesday, Feb. 20, but said having legislators push for his removal would ensure the president would do so.
Both men have denied that they tried to have Shulkin fired, according to the article. "That simply never happened, and the allegation is ridiculous," they said in a statement to the newspaper.
Shulkin has said that staffers within the VA are trying to undermine his authority, and he has indicated that he was given full support from the White House to purge people within the agency who may be trying to push him out. He said the turmoil within the VA is a classic power struggle because some in the agency don't support his bipartisan plans to improve the agency.
Shulkin also has the full backing of major veterans' groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and AMVETS. Those groups met with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly earlier this week, where they discussed policies for veterans and the internal strife at the VA.