The chief diversity officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs was reportedly warned by a top Trump appointee not to condemn white supremacists violence during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.
According to new emails obtained by The Washington Post on Wednesday, Georgia Coffey, a VA senior executive, urged the agency to issue a statement calling out the “repugnant display of hate and bigotry by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan”
But after President Trump took a public stance that “both sides” were to blame for the clash that left several protesters injured and one woman dead, John Ullyot, the VA’s chief communications official, reportedly didn’t want such a strongly worded statement released.
The Hill reports:
Coffey, a nationally-known expert on workplace diversity and race relations, shared a draft of her remarks with the public affairs office just days after the rally. Her prepared statement called Charlottesville “a tragic reminder that our work in civil rights and inclusion is not finished.”
She wanted the remarks to be sent to employees — more than 40 percent of the VA’s employees are minorities — and the public.
Ullyot sent an email stating that because Shulkin had already made comment on the topic earlier in the week, the message strongly condemning the violence and hate need not be sent. A series of emails claimed that Ullyot wanted the email pared down but added that they could keep the “strong commitment” to equal opportunity and diversity part.
Coffey responded noting that Ullyot’s edits would “dilute my message and fail to convey the sense of condemnation that I hope we all feel.”
Also from The Hill:
Ullyot then added that he and Shulkin agreed that the secretary’s name should be removed from the statement.
The emails, which were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Project on Government Oversight, show that Coffey’s staff was worried she would get in trouble. They told her to tone down her remarks like Ullyot suggested, but she refused.
Coffey later published the full remarks under her name in a monthly newsletter posted by the VA’s diversity office.
It was removed and she was reportedly reprimanded. She retired from the VA shortly after and now works as senior manager for diversity and inclusion at Lockheed Martin.
An anonymous source told the Post that Ullyot was acting at the direct insistence of the White House to tone down the language in an attempt not to bring any more heat on the president’s
inability to condemn white supremacy assertion that “both sides” were to blame for white supremacists violence.
VA spokesman Curt Cashour told the Post that they never received any guidance as to what statements would be issued from the White House and added that Shulkin had “dictated explicitly to John [Ullyot] how he wanted this particular issue handled,” The Hill reports.