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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Trump ‘plans to oust’ David Shulkin as veterans affairs secretary

Turmoil in the upper echelons of the administration continues as the president seeks to continue his reshuffle

A blistering report by his department’s internal watchdog in February found that David Shulkin had improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Jose Luis Magana / AP
A blistering report by his department’s internal watchdog in February found that David Shulkin had improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Jose Luis Magana / AP

US President Donald Trump is planning to oust embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin amid an extraordinary rebellion at the agency and damaging government investigations into his alleged spending abuses, according to the Associated Press.

Two officials said that an announcement on Mr Shulkin’s fate could happen this week, subject to Mr Trump’s final decision as the White House hones in on possible replacements to head the the department. One of the officials rated Shulkin's chances of being pushed out in the next day or two at “50-50”.

Mr Trump, who spent the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate, is believed to have told associates that he would keep two other administration officials who had been under fire: White House Chief of Staff John F Kelly and Housing Secretary Ben Carson.

So far, the president has jettisoned his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and National Security Advisor HR McMaster over the last two weeks, replacing them with more hawkish supporters of his agenda.

“He did say that he’s expecting to make one or two major changes,” Newsmax chief executive Chris Ruddy, who spoke with Trump over the weekend, told ABC on This Week. "Now, other White House sources, not the president, tell me that David Shulkin is likely to depart the Cabinet very soon,” Mr Ruddy said.

The White House did not immediately comment, nor did Mr Shulkin.

Speculation over his fate has ramped up in recent weeks following a blistering report by the department’s internal watchdog in February that found he had improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament and his staff had doctored emails to justify his wife traveling to Europe with him at taxpayer expense.

A separate investigation, due out in the coming weeks, is also looking into a complaint that Mr Shulkin asked his security detail to accompany him to a Home Depot store and cart furniture items.

One person familiar with the White House discussions told the AP on Sunday that they were looking closely at roughly half a dozen candidates to head the VA, the government's second-largest department with 370,000 employees.

During the presidential campaign, Mr Trump repeatedly pledged to fix the VA by expanding access to private doctors and firing bad employees, criticising the department as “the most corrupt”. Last year, he promised to triple the number of veterans “seeing the doctor of their choice.”

In response to the ethics issues, Mr Shulkin has denied wrongdoing and complained about internal drama at the agency that has made it difficult for him to push through VA improvements, citing a half dozen or so political appointees there who were rebelling against him.

The department provides medical care and other benefits to 9 million military veterans in more than 1,700 health facilities across the country.