Don’t condemn white nationalists, Veterans Affairs’ diversity chief was told after Charlottesville, emails show

A top White House appointee at the Department of Veterans Affairs sought to silence the agency’s chief diversity officer, who — in the aftermath of last year’s racially charged violence in Charlottesville — pushed for a forceful condemnation that was at odds with President Trump’s response, newly disclosed emails show.

The tense exchange between Georgia Coffey, a nationally recognized expert in workplace diversity and race relations, and John Ullyot, who remains VA’s chief communications official, occurred during a low point in Trump’s presidency: when he blamed “many sides” for the deadly clash in Charlottesville without singling out the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who rallied there.

One woman was killed and dozens were injured in the August 2017 protest, which began over the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a local park and ended when a car plowed into a crowd of anti-racism protesters.

VA’s secretary at the time, David Shulkin, made headlines that week when he appeared to break with Trump, telling reporters the violence in Charlottesville “outraged” him. Coffey, a career senior executive at VA, pressed the agency’s leaders to issue a statement making it clear that VA stood against such a “repugnant display of hate and bigotry by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan,” according to the emails.

The emails were provided to The Washington Post by the nonprofit watchdog group American Oversight, which obtained them via the Freedom of Information Act. The correspondence sheds new light on the politically delicate decisions federal agencies faced as officials sought to balance the need to address employee concerns with a desire not to upset the White House.

A statement from VA leaders was necessary, Coffey wrote in one email to Ullyot, because the agency’s workforce was unsettled by the uproar caused by the Charlottesville violence. Minorities make up more than 40 percent of VA’s 380,000 employees, the federal government’s second-largest agency.

Ullyot told Coffey to stand down, the emails show. A person familiar with their dispute, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Post that Ullyot was enforcing a directive from the White House, where officials were scrambling to contain the fallout from Trump’s comments, and they did not want government officials to call further attention to the controversy.

VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the agency received no such guidance from the White House.

Coffey, who declined to comment, retired from VA shortly after the dust-up, frustrated with what she felt was a lack of support from the Trump administration, according to her former colleagues. She now works as senior manager for diversity and inclusion at Lockheed Martin.

Ullyot, a seasoned media professional who worked on Trump’s campaign, is VA’s assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs. His exchange with Coffey was respectful, and he noted that he was acting at Shulkin’s direction, according to his emails. Shulkin, whom Trump forced out of the Cabinet post in March, and other officials were copied on the messages.

At VA, the fallout from Charlottesville remains a sensitive subject. In response to a request seeking comment for this report, VA’s current secretary, Robert Wilkie, issued a statement affirming that “John Ullyot is on the VA team because he is committed to veterans and has spent a lifetime of exceptional service as a Marine and public servant.”

Ullyot referred questions to VA’s public affairs office.

On Aug. 17, days after the Charlottesville violence, Coffey — then deputy assistant secretary for diversity and inclusion — emailed public affairs. She shared a draft of her statement and accompanying remarks, and requested help disseminating it to employees and the public.

Her remarks said the incident served “as a tragic reminder that our work in civil rights and inclusion is not finished.” She called on VA employees to be mindful of federal anti-discrimination policies and the agency’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The response from a staffer in public affairs said, “John Ullyot does not want to post the message, as the Secretary previously made statements in the news media on this topic earlier this week.”

In an emotional statement the day before, at Trump’s private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., Shulkin said he gave “my personal opinions as an American and as a Jewish American. . . . And for me in particular, I think in learning history, that we know that staying silent on these issues is simply not acceptable.”

Other top administration officials echoed his sentiments.

Coffey urged expediency, telling Ullyot that she had sent the statement to Shulkin and his chief of staff for their review, according to their email exchange.

Ullyot then indicated that after consulting with Shulkin, the secretary said that “we should all feel free to share our own personal views on the recent events . . . as he did.’’ Ullyot wanted to remove the statement’s more incendiary language but told Coffey she could keep the part that reminded employees of VA’s “strong commitment” to equal employment opportunity and diversity, their emails show.

Coffey told Ullyot that she worried his edits would “dilute my message and fail to convey the sense of condemnation that I hope we all feel,” the emails show. She offered to remove Shulkin’s name from the statement, but Ullyot told her that he and Shulkin had agreed not to use it.

Shulkin said in an interview that he does not recall his conversations with Ullyot about how VA should respond to the incident. “I’ve been pretty public about my opinions on the Charlottesville events . . . and of course I think all Americans should express their views,” he said.

Coffey’s staff worried that she would get in trouble if she disregarded Ullyot’s guidance, according to other emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group that first publicized the episode last year. The staff suggested that she should tone down her remarks, but Coffey declined. She posted the full remarks under her name in the monthly newsletter posted online by VA’s diversity office. Agency officials removed it and reprimanded her. She retired soon after.

Cashour said Shulkin had “dictated explicitly to John how he wanted this particular issue handled.” The secretary, Cashour said, was “adamant that VA employees keep their personal views on the Charlottesville issue out of official VA communications, as Shulkin had done himself in public comments two days beforehand. John was simply ensuring that Coffey understood and followed Shulkin’s guidance.”

The agency has grappled with issues surrounding race in recent years.

VA has long had an Office on Diversity and Inclusion to help improve race relations internally, and during the Obama administration appointed a senior official to travel around the country to set up conversations on race. The official, John Fuller, retired last year, citing a lack of support from the Trump administration.

In October, a senior official in VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization was forced to remove a portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and the Ku Klux Klan’s first grand wizard, from his office in Washington after offending employees. The official said he was unaware of Forrest’s affiliation with the hate group.

The same month, VA took down a placard outside a conference room in the same office that employees had named for Stonewall Jackson, another Confederate general. Cashour said officials were unaware the room had been named for Jackson and blamed a contractor employed by VA and the contractor’s supervisor. The contractor was instructed to take down the placard but had failed to do so, Cashour said.

[Washington Post]

Trump Warns Antifa: The Opposition Can Be ‘Much More Violent’

President Donald Trump‘s interview with the Daily Caller has provided little in the way of news from what has been released so far, but more than enough weird comments from our very weird commander in chief. Among them, an ominous threat to Antifa, the group of radical left wing activists who protested outside Tucker Carlson‘s home last week.

“These people, like the Antifa — they better hope that the opposition to Antifa decides not to mobilize,” Trump told the Daily Caller when asked about the group. “Because if they do, they’re much tougher. Much stronger.”

“Potentially much more violent,” he continued. “And Antifa’s going to be in big trouble. But so far they haven’t done that and that’s a good thing.”

The website, which was founded by Carlson, asked Trump about the recent protests outside the Fox News host’s home, which police are investigating.

“I spoke to Tucker,” Trump replied. “I think Tucker’s a great guy — and I think it’s terrible. They were actually trying to break down [Tucker’s] door.”

The interview was conducted by the Caller’s star White House reporter Saagar Enjeti, as well as, inexplicably, Benny Johnson, Washington D.C.’s worst reporter. Johnson posted a tweet after the interview that sought to combat recent reports that Trump’s post-midterm mood is dour. The tweet also promised “BIG NEWS,” which we await with baited breath.

[Mediaite]

Trump says he wants to unite the country ‘eventually’

— President Trump said he “eventually” wants to unite the country during a raucous Monday campaign rally where he repeatedly attacked Democrats and the news media.

“I do eventually want to unite, but the fact is, we’re driving them crazy,” Trump said inside a packed Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. “They’re going loco.”

Trump’s rhetoric during his nearly two years as president has featured a constant, pointed onslaught against his opponents.

His approach has come under scrutiny in the aftermath of a string of bombing attempts against prominent Democrats and a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue by suspects who have echoed some of his rhetoric.

But Trump has refused to back down, saying his style fires up his core supporters.

That was on display during his final day of campaigning before the midterm elections, when he went after Democrats on immigration and the confirmation battle for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Trump accused Democrats, without evidence, of wooing migrant caravans to the U.S. “to overwhelm your schools, your hospitals and your communities.”

He also mocked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calf.) as a “real genius” and dubbed Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) “Sleepin’ Joe.”

Trump repeatedly lambasted the “fake news media” for turning the cameras toward demonstrators in the crowds instead of Trump supporters.

“The cameras turned like a pretzel, did you see that? But they won’t show these huge crowds,” he said. “They don’t turn because they’re fake news. They’re fake news.”

The president appeared to revel in the energetic crowd, which booed the interruptions of protesters and tried to drown them out with chants of “USA.”

“And by the way, is there anything like a Trump rally?” Trump asked.

[The Hill]

Trump Says He Told U.S. Military at Border to ‘Consider it a Rifle’ if Migrants Throw Rocks

During an address on immigration from the White House on Thursday, President Donald Trump took questions from the press.

At one point, in response to a question from a reporter about if he would foresee a situation where the military may fire on the Central American migrants making their way to the border, he said that the United States military will consider a rock held in the hands of migrants the same as a firearm.

“I will tell you this, anybody throwing stones, rocks, like they did to Mexico and the Mexican military, Mexican police, where they badly hurt police and soldiers of Mexico, we will consider that a firearm,” Trump said. “Because there’s not much difference. When you get hit in the face with a rock, which as you know, that was very violent a few days ago. Very, very violent.”

Then a little while later he doubled down, saying that he considers a rock like a rifle: “They’re throwing rocks, viciously, and violently. You saw that three days ago. Really hurting the military. We’re not going to put up with that. They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. We’re gonna consider, and I told them consider it a rifle. When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military and police, I say consider it a rifle.”

Just one week ago, in an interview with Fox News, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen downplayed the possibility of the US military opening fire on the migrants, saying, “We do not have any intention right now to shoot at people…They will be apprehended, however.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Warns: ‘I Could Really Tone Up’ Rhetoric Against the Media

On his way to yet another rally Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump suggested that he has toned down his rhetoric and, if anything, he could “tone it up.”

When asked by a reporter on the White House lawn if he saw his face plastered all over suspect Cesar Sayoc‘s alleged van, Trump said he did not but admitted he heard that the suspect was “a person that preferred me over others.”

Then when asked about toning down his rhetoric, Trump said this: “Well, I think I’ve been toned down, if you want to know the truth. I could really tone it up. Because, as you know, the media has been extremely unfair to me and to the Republican Party.”

Then continuing on his media grievances he added, “I think the media has been very, very unfair. In terms of the Republican Party. And the way it’s been covered. And they understand that.”

[Mediaite]

Media

Trump admits he was wrong to compare ‘political opponents to villains’ — then accuses the media of inciting violence

President Donald Trump admitted that he was wrong to have spent the past several years demonizing his political opponents. Or, at the very least he confessed it was wrong to do so, though it’s unclear if he realizes he’s attacking himself.

“I want to begin tonight by addressing the suspicious devices and packages that were mailed to current and former high-ranking government officials,” he began taking the stage. “My highest duty as president is to keep America safe, that is what we talked about. That is what we do. The federal government is conducting in an aggressive investigation and we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice, hopefully very soon.

He went on to say, “acts or threats of political violence are in an attack on our democracy itself. No nation can succeed the tolerance while it — not tolerate violence as the threat of violence as a method of political intimidation, coercion or control. We all know that.”

As a fact-check, the president has spent many of his rallies attacking his political opponents and threatening them with being “locked up” and other things.

Such conduct must be fiercely opposed and firmly prosecuted,” he continued. “We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony. We can do it. We can do it. We can do it. It will happen. More broadly there is much we can do to bring our nation together.”

Then, as if he was sending himself a message, Trump said everyone in politics needs to stop treating each other as “morally defective.”

“The language of moral condemnation and destructive routine, these are arguments and disagreements that have to stop, no one should carelessly compare political opponents to historical villains,” he said. “Which is done often, it is done all the time, it has got to stop. We should not mob people in public spaces or destroying public property. There is one way to settle the disagreements, it is called peacefully at the ballot box. That is what we want. As part of a larger national effort to bridge the divide and bring people together, the media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative in and often times false attacks and stories. They have to do it. They have to do it. They have got to stop. Bring people together. We are just 13 days away from a very, very important election, it is an election of monumental.”

At no point did Trump mention the names of anyone who had bombs sent to them. He called them nothing more than “former high-ranking officials. In an earlier statement, the president condemned the attacks but refused to call it terrorism.

[Raw Story]

Trump Says He Doesn’t Regret Remarks About Gianforte Assaulting Reporter: The Congressman is a ‘Tough Cookie’

President Donald Trump, to perhaps no one’s surprise, is completely standing by his jovial comments about a Republican congressman’s assault of a reporter.

Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) attacking Ben Jacobs became the subject of a Trump riff last night during a rally, in which the President actually said, “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of guy.”

The White House Correspondents Association condemned Trump’s remarks, and today, as the President answered questions about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, one reporter asked, “Do you regret bringing up last night at your rally the assault on a reporter by a congressman?”

Trump said he doesn’t, adding, “That was a different world. That was a different league, a different world, no. He’s just a great guy.”

He talked about his “tremendous success” last night and said, “Greg is a tremendous person and he’s a tough cookie and I’ll stay with that.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Praises Rep. Gianforte For Assaulting Reporter: Anyone Who Can Body Slam is ‘My Kind of Guy’

 President Donald Trump praised a Republican congressman who body slammed a reporter last year, saying the lawmaker was “my guy.”

Trump, speaking at a rally in Montana, said Rep. Greg Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to assaulting a reporter who asked him a question, was a good guy.

“Greg is smart and, by the way, never wrestle him,” the president said, motioning as though he was slamming someone to the ground. “Any guy that can do a body slam — he’s my guy.”

He added Gianforte was a “great guy” and a “tough cookie.”

In May 2017, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs said Gianforte “body slammed” him for asking a question during an event. Gianforte went on to win Montana’s only U.S. House seat despite the misdemeanor charge and two Montana papers — the Missoulian and the Billings Gazette — rescinding their endorsements.

Gianforte’s campaign initially released a statement claiming Jacobs had “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face” and instigated the attack. Gianforte later pleaded guilty to an assault charge and apologized for the incident, pledging a $50,000 donation to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Gianforte is in a battle against Democrat and former state legislator Kathleen Williams in next month’s election.

Guardian Editor John Mulholland denounced the president’s praise for the assault as an attack on the First Amendment.

“The President of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian,” he said in a statement given to CNN. “To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it.”

Mulholland continued, saying the rhetoric was dangerous, especially given the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who is believed to have been killed in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Mulholland said this “runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats. We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them.”

During the rally, Trump talked about learning of the assault and said he initially worried Gianforte would lose his election last year.

“I said, ‘Oh, this is terrible. He’s going to lose the election,”‘ Trump told the crowd. “Then I said, ‘Well, wait a minute. I know Montana pretty well. I think it might help him and it did.'”

Throughout his rally, the president made several remarks about Gianforte’s attack on Jacobs. He cited the incident when he mentioned comments by former Vice President Joe Biden, who said that if he’d known Trump in high school he would have “beat the hell out of” him.

The president challenged Biden during the rally, saying “He’d be down faster than Greg would take him down. He’d be down so fast. Faster than Greg. I’d have to go very fast. I’d have to immediately connect.”

[USA Today]

Media

Trump Talks Fighting Joe Biden: ‘He’d Be Down Faster’ Than Greg Gianforte Could ‘Take Him Down’

President Donald Trump fired off tough words at Joe Biden at a rally on Thursday night, boasting he would knock him down faster than Rep. Greg Gianforte could, the Montana Republican who attacked a reporter during his campaign for Congress.

After praising Gianforte for body slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, a crime for which the lawmaker was just sentenced, Trump brought up his feud with former Vice President Biden.

“How about Sleepy Joe Biden,” Trump said, while listing off his potential 2020 competitors. “Remember he challenged me to a fight.”

“And when I said he wouldn’t last long, he’d be down faster than Greg would take him down,” Trump continued. “He’d be down so fast. Remember? Faster than Greg. I’d have to go very fast. I’d have to immediately connect.”

During the 2016 campaign, Biden criticized Trump’s “disgusting assertion” about groping women on the access Hollywood Tape.

“The press always asks me: don’t I wish I were debating him,” Biden said in a speech. “No, I wish we were in high school—I could take him behind the gym. That’s what I wish.”

Those comments prompted a war of words between the two, with Trump saying Biden would “go down fast and hard, crying all the way.” Biden eventually said he regretted his comments.

[Mediaite]

New York judge says Trump ‘authorized and condoned’ his security guards to rough up protesters

Trump security punch protester

A New York State judge has shot down an effort by President Donald Trump to dismiss a lawsuit against his private security guards for allegedly roughing up demonstrators who were protesting outside of Trump Tower months after he announced his presidential run.

The New York Law Journal reports that Bronx Supreme Court Justice Fernando Tapia on Tuesday declined to dismiss the suit filed by protesters who claim they were roughed up by the president’s security team back in 2015.

Specifically, Tapia said that Trump himself “authorized and condoned” his security guards to rough up the protesters, and he specifically cited the president’s statement that “maybe they deserved to be roughed up” on the grounds that “it was absolutely disgusting” what the protesters were doing.

The lawsuit was filed by five Latino activists who claim that they were roughed up by longtime Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller and two other men who were employed as part of the then-candidate’s security personnel.

[Raw Story]

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