Emails reviewed show an official was asked to remove "incendiary" language condemning "white supremacy, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan."
In the aftermath of deadly protests in Charlottesville in August 2017, the chief diversity officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs pushed to issue a statement condemning white supremacy — only to be silenced by a White House appointee at the agency, The Washington Post reported.
Emails provided to the Post by watchdog organization American Oversight reportedly show a tense exchange between the two officials.
Georgia Coffey, the diversity chief, believed a strong statement was appropriate because "the agency's workforce was unsettled by the uproar," the Post reported. The VA secretary at the time, David Shulkin, told reporters he was "outraged" by the violence.
According to the Post, in her emails Coffey wanted to send a clear message that the VA stood against the "repugnant display of hate and bigotry by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan."
John Ullyot, a top communications official at the VA, told Coffey to stand down, the Post reported. Ullyot reportedly told Coffey that, at the direction of Secretary Shulkin, such a statement was unnecessary because Shulkin had already addressed the violence with the press. An anonymous source told Post reporter Lisa Rein that the direction to silence Coffey's statement came from the White House amid efforts to calm the uproar caused by President Donald Trump's controversial response to the protests.
VA spokesman Curt Cashour told the Post the White House did not issue the direction.
Shulkin reportedly encouraged VA employees to share their personal views, as he had done. But Ullyot asked Coffey to remove incendiary language before releasing her personal statement, which she felt would dilute her intended message, the Post reported.
Coffey released her full statement, and was summarily reprimanded before her retirement from the agency, according to the Post.
Coffey and Ullyot declined to comment on the story. Shulkin told the Post he did not recall discussing the VA's response with Ullyot.