VA secretary gave inaccurate answers on pro-Confederate ties during confirmation process

Posted at 3:00 PM, Dec 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-14 17:00:48-05

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie gave inaccurate answers to senators during his confirmation process about pro-Confederate speeches he delivered in 2009.

In response to questions about remarks he made at Confederate memorial events, Wilkie downplayed his participation in a June 2009 event at the Confederate memorial in Arlington National Cemetery as simply introducing a keynote speaker. He also said he didn’t have copies of remarks because he had not delivered a speech to such groups in “15-20 years.”

But Wilkie’s comments stand in contradiction to what his spokesman told CNN’s KFile team last week, when he confirmed that Wilkie delivered a speech extolling the legacy of Robert E. Lee at that June 2009 ceremony at the Confederate memorial. The speech was the same one that he gave to another group in December 2009, which was also published in the Confederate Veteran magazine.

Wilkie’s spokesman Curt Cashour told CNN’s KFile on Thursday that the secretary answered questions from senators with his “best recollection” of the events. Cashour did not answer a follow-up question about Wilkie’s recollection of the 2009 speech at Arlington National Cemetery.

Cashour told CNN’s KFILE last week that the December 2009 speech to a Maryland branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans “was the same speech Secretary Wilkie gave at a 2009 official Arlington Cemetery event to which President Obama sent a wreath recognizing the service of Confederate Veterans.”

Cashour’s response contradicted what Wilkie told senators in his June 2018 confirmation hearing about the Arlington Cemetery event, when he said, “The only thing I did was introduce a fellow named Ron Maxwell, who’s the producer of the famous movie ‘Gettysburg,’ and I thanked President Obama for his support of an event that celebrated America’s veterans, both Union and Confederate. President Obama brought — had a wreath delivered by the old guard of the Army.”

Prior to the 2009 event, scholars had asked then-President Barack Obama to end the tradition of sending a wreath to the Confederate Memorial. Obama decided to send a wreath to the Confederate Memorial, but also to a memorial honoring black soldiers who served in the Civil War.

In written questions after last June’s hearing, Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray asked Wilkie for copies of any speeches he gave at Confederate memorial events. Wilkie did not turn over transcripts of his speeches to the senator, saying, “I did not keep copies of the remarks as they were made over 15-20 years ago.”

Cashour said the secretary was not aware the speech about Lee was published in a magazine.

“Whether the handful of events took place close to a decade ago or 15-20 years ago, Secretary Wilkie gave his best recollection of his participation in them, and emphasized that they were strictly historical in nature, almost all official and bipartisan, and he stopped participating in them once the issue became divisive,” Cashour said. “He was not aware that the remarks had been published, and, as he stated, he did not keep copies of the remarks.”

“Once again, the broad issue of his participation in the events based on his best recollection was addressed in depth at the Secretary’s two Senate confirmation hearings for (Defense Department) and VA positions in 2017 and 2018, and Secretary Wilkie underscored that he served proudly on Condoleezza Rice’s National Security Council staff,” he added. “Both committees and the full Senate confirmed him overwhelmingly for the positions.”