On Veterans Day, Trump Laments Passing Whistleblower Law Meant to Improve VA: ‘To Think I Signed!’

On Veterans Day, President Donald Trump lamented passing a whistleblower law meant to increase protections for employees who uncovered wrongdoing in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“To think I signed the Whistleblower Protection Act!” Trump said Monday, stepping on an announcement from the White House twitter account praising Trump’s accomplishments for veterans.

The actual Whistleblower Protection Act was passed in 1998, but Trump has passed at least two laws related to whistleblower protections, according to a review of the congressional record.

The White House tweet is apparently referring to the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which was sponsored by GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. The law passed the Senate via voice vote.

The law established a new special office in the VA to protect whistleblowers from retaliation and makes it easier to fire employees accused of misconduct. However, an Inspector General report released late last month found the office had largely failed in its mission to protect whistleblowers and conducted corrupt investigations.

Trump also signed the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 into law, which is named for a VA doctor who was ousted and later killed himself after he blew the whistle on the over-prescription of opiates at his VA facility.

[Mediaite]

Trump rails against impeachment inquiry as key White House witness testifies

President Trump on Tuesday railed against the impeachment inquiry into his alleged abuse of power ahead of key testimony from a White House official that threatens to deepen the president’s problems.

Trump tweeted or retweeted dozens of messages denying wrongdoing, chastising Democrats for their handling of the impeachment proceedings thus far and questioning the credibility of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official who will meet behind closed doors with lawmakers on Tuesday.

“Supposedly, according to the Corrupt Media, the Ukraine call ‘concerned’ today’s Never Trumper witness,” Trump tweeted. “Was he on the same call that I was? Can’t be possible! Please ask him to read the Transcript of the call. Witch Hunt!”

In another tweet, Trump questioned “How many more Never Trumpers will be allowed to testify” and asked “why so many” people were listening in on his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The president repeatedly urged his followers on Tuesday to read a White House rough transcript of the call, which was released in September. The document shows Trump urging Zelensky to look into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and a company with ties to the Russia investigation.

Vindman on Tuesday will become the first official who was on the call to testify. He will tell lawmakers that he was troubled by Trump urging Zelensky to investigate a political rival and reported it to his supervisor, worrying that the president’s conduct threatened to undermine U.S. national security, according to a copy of his opening statement obtained by The Hill.

Vindman is a Ukrainian American immigrant and received the Purple Heart for his service in Iraq.

The July 25 call, a whistleblower complaint about the conversation and testimony from several administration officials have formed the basis of the ongoing impeachment inquiry. The House is scheduled to vote this week to formalize the inquiry and lay out rules to govern the process.

Republicans and White House allies have spent recent weeks hammering Democrats over transparency and questioning the legitimacy of the impeachment inquiry without a formal vote. But in light of Democrats agreeing to hold such a vote, the president’s backers have shifted their message.

Trump on Tuesday retweeted dozens of messages from Republican lawmakers and conservative voices blasting the process as a “sham” and disputing that holding a formal vote at this point in the process changes that.

“A vote now is a bit like un-Ringing a bell as House Democrats have selectively leaked information in order to damage President @realDonaldTrump for weeks,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted in one message shared by Trump.

“Codifying a sham process halfway through doesn’t make it any less of a sham process,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said in another message the president retweeted.

While Republicans have largely focused their complaints on process, Trump has fixated on the substance of the investigation and repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

“I’d rather go into the details of the case rather than process,” Trump said Monday. “Process is good. But I think you ought to look at the case. And the case is very simple. It’s quick. It’s so quick.”

The president’s insistence that he has done nothing wrong puts Republicans in a difficult spot, particularly in the Senate, where some GOP lawmakers have been hesitant to defend Trump’s actions.

Most Republican senators backed a resolution last week condemning the impeachment inquiry against Trump and calling on the House to hold a formal vote on the inquiry. But the document largely focused on process, and a few key senators have yet to sign on to it in support.

[The Hill]

Trump administration raids military for border wall

The Trump administration is carrying out plans to raid $3.6 billion in military construction projects to build the border wall, further inflaming lawmakers who have accused President Donald Trump of illegally overriding Congress’ spending decisions.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper informed congressional leaders on Tuesday of the cash grab from a total of 127 military projects. Roughly half the money will come from funds previously dedicated to upgrading military bases abroad and the other half in the United States.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Esper told him some of the money will come from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in his home state of New York.

“It is a slap in the face to the members of the Armed Forces who serve our country that President Trump is willing to cannibalize already allocated military funding to boost his own ego and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build,” Schumer said in a statement.

Trump declared a national emergency in February in order to divert $8 billion from various federal accounts to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, including a Treasury Department fund and Defense Department efforts to interdict illegal drugs.

Tuesday’s announcement comes on top of $2.5 billion the Pentagon already diverted from its budget toward the border barrier this spring over objections from leaders on the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Esper told him some of the money will come from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in his home state of New York.

“It is a slap in the face to the members of the Armed Forces who serve our country that President Trump is willing to cannibalize already allocated military funding to boost his own ego and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build,” Schumer said in a statement.

Trump declared a national emergency in February in order to divert $8 billion from various federal accounts to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, including a Treasury Department fund and Defense Department efforts to interdict illegal drugs.

Tuesday’s announcement comes on top of $2.5 billion the Pentagon already diverted from its budget toward the border barrier this spring over objections from leaders on the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees.

[Politico]

Trump Slams U.S. Military Exercises, Helps Kim Jong Un Blame America for Missile Launches

President Donald Trump released some details of the “beautiful letter” that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un sent him recently, which apparently included a “small apology” for the recent missile tests, which Kim blamed on the U.S. military exercises that Trump called “ridiculous and expensive.”

During an impromptu press gaggle on the South Lawn of the White House Friday, Trump told reporters that he “got a very beautiful letter from Kim Jong Un yesterday,” and while he gushed about the beauty and three-page (“right from top to bottom”) length of the letter, Trump would not reveal its beautiful contents.

But on Saturday morning, Trump did reveal some of Kim’s letter, writing that the dictator mostly complained about our country’s military exercises, and promised to end missile tests once those exercises stop. Trump called the exercises “expensive and ridiculous.”

Since Trump announced receipt of that beautiful letter, North Koreas has reportedly conducted another missile launch, its fifth in recent weeks. Trump has been a consistent critic of the U.S. military’s joint military exercises with South Korea, which Trump and the North Koreans call “war games.”

Watch Trump describe the beautiful three full page, right from top to bottom, feat of correspondence above, via CBS.

[Mediaite]

Trump Rips Mueller in Interview From Normandy Cemetery: He ‘Made Such a Fool Out of Himself’

In his latest interview with Fox News, President Donald Trump blasted Robert Mueller by saying the special counsel made a “fool” of himself with his recent press conference.

Trump was late for a D-Day commemorative ceremony on Thursday when his interview with Laura Ingraham apparently ran long, and the first details of their conversation include the president ripping Mueller’s public remarks about his investigative findings.

“Let me tell you, he made such a fool out of himself,” Trump said, “because what people don’t report is the letter he had to do to straighten out his testimony because his testimony was wrong.”

It’s not clear what testimony Trump was talking about, but he seemed to be referring to Mueller’s letter to William Barr, the letter in which Mueller criticized the attorney general for not conveying the full gravity of the special counsel’s conclusions. While Barr has been favorable to Trump by dismissing the idea that the president committed obstruction of justice, Mueller said that Justice Department policies prevented him from charging the president, and, “if we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”

Trump also used part of the interview to attack House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which comes after their recent feud where he raised questions about her mental fitness. This time, Trump bashed Pelosi by accusing her of ignoring a Justice Department statement insisting there’s no contradiction between Barr and Mueller.

“Nancy Pelosi, I call her Nervous Nancy, Nancy Pelosi doesn’t talk about it,” said Trump. “Nancy Pelosi is a disaster, ok? She’s a disaster. Let her do what she wants, you know what? I think they’re in big trouble.”

[Mediaite]

Trump delays D-Day ceremony to squeeze in an interview with Fox’s Laura Ingraham

President Donald Trump on Thursday delivered a speech marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy — after squeezing in an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham.

The ceremony was delayed while the U.S. president spoke with Ingraham, who had complained about Democrats using children as “pathetic political props” during a broadcast the previous evening from the cemetery at Normandy.

TV cameras spotted Trump talking to Ingraham 14 minutes after the ceremony was scheduled to begin, and an announcement was made pushing back the start time as thousands waited.

[Raw Story]

Navy says it was asked to ‘minimize visibility’ of USS McCain for Trump visit

The Navy has acknowledged receiving a request to “minimize visibility” of the USS John S. McCain during President Trump‘s visit to Japan earlier this week but said the ship remained in its normal configuration.

“A request was made to the U.S. Navy to minimize the visibility of USS John S. McCain, however, all ships remained in their normal configuration during the President’s visit,” Rear Adm. Charlie Brown, chief of Navy information, told CNN in a statement late Friday. “There were also no intentional efforts to explicitly exclude Sailors assigned to USS John S. McCain.”

The spokesman said that the Navy is “fully cooperating with the review of this matter.” Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said earlier this week that he had directed his chief of staff to look into the incident because he never authorized any “action around the movement of activity regarding that ship.”

Shanahan maintained Friday that the U.S. military would not “become politicized” amid questions over a White House order to keep the USS John S. McCain “out of sight” during Trump’s visit to Japan.

The ship is currently under repair, with one Navy official telling CNN that the White House request was impractical.

“Our business is to run military operations and not to become politicized,” Shanahan told reporters during a news conference in Singapore on Friday when asked if he shared Trump’s assessment that whoever gave the order was “well-meaning.”

“I’ll wait until I get a full explanation of the facts before I’ll pass judgment on the situation, but our job is to run the military. And I would not have moved the ship. I would not have given that direction,” he added.

Trump said Thursday that he “didn’t know anything” about the request to hide the guided missile destroyer during his visit to the Yokosuka Naval Base on Memorial Day. However, he went on to chastise the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over his vote that helped torpedo GOP efforts to repeal ObamaCare in 2017, saying he “was not a big fan of John McCain.”

“But I would never do a thing like that,” he added. “Now, somebody did it because they thought I didn’t like him. And they were well-meaning, I will say.”

[The Hill]

Trump administration breaks campaign promise, purges 200,000 VA healthcare applications

“The current state of the Department of Veterans Affairs is absolutely unacceptable,” presidential candidate Donald Trump said when speaking at a rally on Oct. 31, 2015, in front of the retired battleship USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Va.

“Over 300,000 — and this is hard to believe, and it’s actually much more than that now — over 300,000 veterans died waiting for care,” said Trump.

Trump’s strong condemnation of the Obama administration’s handling of the backlog of hundreds of thousands of veteran benefits claims made him the overwhelming choice for many veteran voters in 2016.

But after two years in the White House, the Trump administration has decided to execute a plan to purge 200,000 applications for VA healthcare caused by known administrative errors within VA’s enrollment process and enrollment system — problems that had already been documented by the Office of the Inspector General in 2015 and 2017.

In purging this massive backlog of applications, the VA is declaring the applications to be incomplete due to errors by the applicants, despite the OIG findings and in violation of the promise Trump made to fix the system. This purge has the dual effect of letting the VA avoid the work of processing the applications and absolving the agency of any responsibility for veterans’ delayed access to health and disability benefits.

Under the supervision of Dr. Richard Stone, the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, VHA managers last November instructed the agency’s IT staff members to purge over 200,000 pending healthcare applications.

Such a profound decision to deny veterans benefits should have to come from someone higher up — the president or the Secretary of Veterans Affairs — not from a career bureaucrat who has not been elected or confirmed by the Senate.

This purge flies in the face of previous guidance provided by lawmakers. On March 3, 2017, Senate and House Veterans Affairs committee members sent a joint letter to the VA, instructing the agency to delay its plans to purge these records. The committees wanted the VA to send new letters to veterans, informing them of their application status and potential equitable relief or financial reimbursement for service-connected health expenses caused by enrollment system errors, as prescribed by law.

Currently, VA is skirting this provision of the law by blaming veteran applicants for the agency’s own mistakes processing health and disability claims. As a result, to win benefits wrongfully denied due to VA’s administrative errors, veterans are forced to go to court and pay legal fees out of whatever benefits they ultimately win.

The Trump administration’s decision opens the door to the agency purging any future backlog of veteran claims for benefits by falsely declaring the applications incomplete due to veteran error.

This is the second time the VA has been caught using its IT department to adjudicate benefits for veterans. In January 2017, the IT department auto-enrolled over 70,000 Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans whose applications had erroneously been held up until they could meet a “means test” — that is, prove their income level. This mass-approval of applications was done in preparation for then-Under Secretary David Shulkin’s confirmation hearing.

They did this without bothering to fix the systemic error that required proof of income from combat veterans, who aren’t required to provide it. As a result, there are still more than 20,000 Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans being denied healthcare benefits due to an erroneous means-test requirement.

Moreover, the means test error in the enrollment system not only affects veteran access to healthcare benefits, but it also causes billing errors for thousands of veterans each year.

The Veterans Health Administration’s Member Services office, which manages the enrollment system, had to reexamine over 6,000 veteran income verification cases, because veterans were overbilled for medical copays ranging from $200 to $3,000. About 1,000 veterans are believed to receive fraudulent bills from the VA every month due to this known system error.

Despite being aware of these systemic issues for years, VA has not initiated an outreach campaign to educate the veteran community about what to do if their application is in a pending status or if they get a fraudulent bill due to missing means-test information.

Instead, the agency has chosen a policy of sending a single notification letter for pending applications, despite knowing that 25% of the letters mailed to veterans are returned or placed on hold due to bad address information in the enrollment system.

Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans routinely have incorrect address information in the enrollment system because they do not have permanent non-military addresses at the time of enrollment during the demobilization process.

The VA could resolve this problem through its data-sharing agreement with the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration, to get current addresses for veterans in the pending backlog. But unfortunately for veterans, it is the VA’s practice to use information from the IRS and SSA only for the purposes of billing and verifying veterans’ dates of death.

All of these issues could be easily fixed. This is why President Trump’s reversal on this issue is so disappointing to the veteran community. Many veterans are asking why the enrollment system was not included in the President’s VA information technology modernization plan.

As a result, 200,000 applications have been purged, violating Trump’s promise. Currently, over 300,000 additional veteran healthcare applications remain in a pending status and will most likely be purged in the near future.

In the absence of executive leadership from the White House, veterans will continue to be denied access to their healthcare benefits at a rate of nearly 5,000 new pending healthcare applications per month.

[Washington Examiner]

President Trump again blasts John McCain, says he was ‘never a fan’ and ‘never will be’

President Donald Trump again criticized the late Sen. John McCain Tuesday, pointing specifically to his vote against repealing Obamacare and saying was “never a fan” and “never will be.”

“I’m very unhappy that he didn’t repeal and replace Obamacare, as you know. He campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare for years and then they got to a vote and he said thumbs down,” Trump said. “Plus there were other things. I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.”

The president’s comments came during an Oval Office meeting with the president of Brazil and after a series of weekend tweets in which Trump blasted the senator, who passed away battling brain cancer in last August.

Trump accused him of “spreading the fake and totally discredited dossier” and of sending it to the FBI and the media “hoping to have it printed BEFORE the Election.” But the president’s claim is not accurate. McCain wasn’t made aware of the dossier until after the election when he passed it on to the FBI.

The dossier, compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Along with other explosive allegations, it alleged that Russians held compromising information about Trump that could be used to blackmail him.

On ABC’s “The View” on Monday, McCain’s daughter Meghan fired back at Trump, saying he “spends his weekend obsessing over great men” because “he will never be a great man” like her father.

[ABC News]

Federal judge halts Trump attempt to discharge service members deemed ‘unfit’ only because they are HIV-positive

A federal judge has issued a ruling from the bench halting the Trump administration’s attempts to discharge service members merely due to their HIV-positive status. The order goes into effect immediately for the U.S. Air Force after two airmen sued Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.

“The two Airmen serving as plaintiffs, who filed pseudonymously, were given discharge orders at the end of last year after being found ‘unfit for continued military service’ despite compliance with medical treatment and physical fitness requirements,” Lambda Legal announced Friday.

The lawsuit was filed by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, with partner law firm Winston & Strawn.

“These decisions should be based on science, not stigma, as today’s ruling from the bench demonstrates,” Lambda Legal’s Scott Schoettes said, calling the judge’s decision, ” a major victory.”

Equality Cases Files published a copy of the ruling here.

[Raw Story]

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