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Trump eyeing Army vet and Fox host Pete Hegseth as VA Secretary: report

Pete Hegseth at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
March 15, 2018

The drama surrounding the Department of Veterans Affairs and its embattled secretary continues, as it was reported this week that President Donald Trump is eyeing “Fox & Friends Weekend” co-host, Army veteran and former Chief Executive Officer for Concerned Veterans for America Pete Hegseth as the next VA Secretary.

Hegseth, 37, would replace current VA Secretary David Shulkin, who has recently come under fire for using taxpayer funds to pay for his wife to travel to Europe, the slow progress at the VA, and for falling out of favor with the White House.

(Full disclosure: Hegseth is a member of the American Military News Board of Advisors.)

Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich first reported that the President was considering Hegseth on Wednesday, citing three anonymous sources who spoke to Townhall.

Axios had reported earlier this week that Trump had called Hegseth during a meeting with Shulkin in the Oval Office to discuss VA legislation.

Trump is also said to be considering Energy Secretary Rick Perry for the post.

Major Hegseth is an Army veteran who has deployed three times since 9/11, most recently returning from Afghanistan where he was the senior counterinsurgency instructor at the Counterinsurgency Training Center in Kabul from 2011 to 2012. Hegseth previously served in Iraq with the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division for its 2005/2006 deployment, serving as an Infantry Platoon Leader in Baghdad in 2005 and as a Civil-Military Operations officer in Samarra in 2006. He also served in Guantanamo Bay for a year guarding detainees. Hegseth holds two Bronze Stars and a Combat Infantryman’s Badge for his time in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a Fox News contributor, Hegseth appears regularly on the channel, guest hosting “Fox & Friends” frequently and regularly providing commentary on other network shows. Hegseth is also a frequent contributor to Fox Business, National Review and FoxNews.com.

Major Hegseth previously served as the Chief Executive Officer for Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) from 2012 to 2015, the largest conservative veterans and military families organization in America.

A VA Inspector General report last month revealed Shulkin allegedly attempted to cover up a taxpayer-funded 10-day European excursion his wife went on last summer that was initiated through doctored emails. Shulkin’s then-chief of staff made false statements in order to disguise the vacation as a government trip.

Earlier this month, it was reported by Axios‘ Jonathan Swan that Trump was more than unhappy with current affairs at the VA, and that the President could end up firing Shulkin if this drama keeps up.

“Trump has been telling associates he doesn’t know what’s happened at the VA, but he doesn’t like what he’s hearing and he may have to fire Shulkin if the situation further deteriorates,” Swan reported.

It seems as though President Trump has given Shulkin’s firing even more thought.

The Associated Press stated that a source familiar with the White House discussions on the issue said Trump has floated the notion of the Cabinet reshuffle as a way to “right the ship at the VA.”

The report mentions that Trump believes Sulkin has become a “distraction to the department’s work.” The source was not authorized to elaborate further.

The recent murmurs of Rick Perry, in particular, possibly being Shulkin’s replacement come just a day after the President hosted Perry at the White House for lunch, though no formal job offer was made at that time, according to unnamed sources.

For now, it remains to be seen if these rumors have any substance. However, Shulkin does have an upcoming VA watchdog report scheduled for release this summer that will further outline any mishandling of government funds or inappropriate use of his security detail.

Following the controversy, the Shulkin staff member who was accused of altering the emails in question resigned, and Shulkin wrote a check to reimburse the government for the cost of his wife’s travel expenses. According to his attorneys, he also intends on repaying other costs.

The news of a possible shake-up at the VA comes at the heels of President Trump’s recent firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who adds his name to the long list of ousted Trump Administration Cabinet members. Trump announced CIA Director Mike Pompeo as his replacement, with Tillerson is scheduled to end his tenure at the end of March.