Robert Wilkie

Robert Leon Wilkie Jr. (born August 2, 1962)[1] is an American lawyer and government official serving as the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the Trump administration. He was confirmed on July 23, 2018 by the United States Senate;[2] the confirmation vote was 86–9.[3] He was sworn in on July 30, 2018.[4]

Robert Wilkie
Robert Wilkie official portrait.jpg
10th United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Assumed office
July 30, 2018
PresidentDonald Trump
DeputyJames Byrne
Pamela J. Powers (acting)
Preceded byDavid Shulkin
In office
March 28, 2018 – May 29, 2018
PresidentDonald Trump
DeputyThomas G. Bowman
Preceded byDavid Shulkin
Succeeded byPeter O'Rourke (acting)
8th Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness
In office
November 30, 2017 – July 30, 2018
PresidentDonald Trump
Preceded byJessica L. Wright
Succeeded byMatthew Donovan
25th Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs
In office
September 29, 2006 – January 19, 2009
Acting: January 31, 2006 – September 29, 2006
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byDan Stanley
Succeeded byElizabeth King
Personal details
Robert Leon Wilkie Jr.

(1962-08-06) August 6, 1962 (age 58)
Frankfurt, West Germany
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Julia Wilkie
EducationWake Forest University (BA)
Loyola University New Orleans (JD)
Georgetown University (LLM)
United States Army War College (MS)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
 United States Air Force

Prior to becoming the VA Secretary, Wilkie served as the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness from November 30, 2017 to July 30, 2018.[5] An intelligence officer in the United States Naval Reserve, he previously served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs in the administration of President George W. Bush.

Early life and educationEdit

Wilkie was born in Frankfurt, West Germany, and attended Salisbury Cathedral School in England, and Reid Ross High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina.[6] The son of a career Army officer, he grew up in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He is married to Julia Wilkie, whom he has known since childhood.[7]

Wilkie received his B.A. degree from Wake Forest University in North Carolina. He received a J.D. degree from Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans in 1988 and an LL.M. degree in International and Comparative Law from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.

Wilkie served in the United States Navy Reserve; he is currently in the United States Air Force Reserve,[8] where he holds the rank of Colonel.[citation needed]


Department of Defense portrait
Wilkie watches as President Trump signs The Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018.

Wilkie began his professional career on Capitol Hill as Counsel to Senator Jesse Helms, and later became legislative director for Representative David Funderburk.[9][10] He was assigned to the Committee on International Relations and the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. In 1997, he began service as counsel and advisor on international security affairs to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, remaining in that office until 2003.[10]

From 2003 to 2005, in the Bush administration, Wilkie was special assistant to the President for national security affairs and a senior director of the National Security Council, where he was a senior policy advisor to then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice as well as her successor, Stephen Hadley.[11] Wilkie developed strategic planning for the implementation of the Moscow Treaty, the Millennium Challenge Account, Iraqi Reconstruction and NATO Expansion.[12] In 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates awarded him the Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest civilian award of the Department.[8]

In 2007, while serving as assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, Wilkie authored a memo outlining guidelines that restricted congressional testimony to high-ranking officers and civilians appointed by the president. Critics of the guidelines argued that they could impede investigations of the Iraq War, and that the Pentagon had no authority to set the rules.[13]

From 2010 to 2015, Wilkie was Vice President for Strategic Programs for CH2M Hill.[14] one of the largest program management and engineering firms in the world. He worked on advising assignments and program management. This involved working with the summer Olympics in London in 2012, as he helped reform the United Kingdom's Defense Supply and Logistics System.[15]

From 2015 to 2017, Wilkie was a senior advisor to U.S. Senator Thom Tillis.[9]

Trump administrationEdit

Wilkie was nominated to be Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness by President Donald Trump in July 2017.[16] This nomination was confirmed by the Senate on November 16, 2017.[17][18]

On March 28, 2018, President Trump announced via Twitter that Wilkie would serve as interim Secretary of Veterans Affairs until the Senate confirmed a successor.[19] On May 18, 2018, following the withdrawn nomination of Ronny Jackson, Trump announced that he was nominating Wilkie to hold the Veterans Affairs position full-time. On July 23, 2018, Wilkie was confirmed by the Senate as the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs, by an 86–9 vote.[2] He was sworn in on July 30, 2018.[4]

In 2019, he was named fifty-second among the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare by Modern Healthcare.[20]

On March 2, 2020, the office of Vice President Mike Pence announced Wilkie's addition to White House Coronavirus Task Force.[21]

VA inspector general investigationEdit

In December, 2020, a Veterans Affairs inspector general (IG) investigation informed the Department of Justice of possible criminal conduct by Wilkie. Wilkie reportedly sought to discredit a congressional staffer who said she was sexually assaulted. The investigation started in the fall of the year[22] and news reports about the accusation were published in February, 2020.[23][24] Based on the IG report, the heads of six major veterans organizations -- American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Paralyzed Veterans of America -- called upon President Trump to "remove ... Wilkie from his post." Citing the organizations' call, the New York Times said "that should be the end of ... Wilkie’s tenure as secretary."[25]

Pro-Confederate speechesEdit

Wilkie said Confederate President Jefferson Davis was a "martyr to 'The Lost Cause'" and an "exceptional man in an exceptional age" in a 1995 speech at the US Capitol. Wilkie also spoke about Robert E. Lee to the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) at a pro-Confederate event in 2009. He also called abolitionists who opposed slavery "radical", "mendacious", and "enemies of liberty", and stated that the Confederate "cause was honorable,"[26] while also condemning slavery as "a stain on our story as it is a stain on every civilization in history".[27] Wilkie is a former member of the SCV.[28]

During Wilkie's confirmation hearings, he gave inaccurate answers to Senators in claiming that he had not spoken to Confederate groups in a much longer time than he really had.[29] In sworn statements to the Senate as part of the nomination questionnaire, he failed to include his membership in the Confederate Memorial Committee and omitted his event speeches from responses asking for details on them.[30]


  1. ^ "FamilySearch".
  2. ^ a b "President Trump announces he's nominating Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to lead agency". May 2018.
  3. ^ Juana Summers. "Senate confirms new secretary of veterans affairs". CNN. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Ebbs, Stephanie (July 30, 2018). "Robert Wilkie sworn in as new Veterans Affairs secretary". ABC News.
  5. ^ "Fayetteville native Robert Wilkie confirmed by unanimous consent by U.S. Senate". The Fayetteville Observer. November 2017. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  6. ^ Futch, Michael. "Wilkie calls his nomination for defense position 'an honor'". The Fayetteville Observer. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  7. ^ "5 things to know about incoming VA secretary Robert Wilkie". USA Today. July 24, 2018.
  8. ^ a b Murphy, Brian (July 20, 2017). "Trump taps Tillis aide for Pentagon post". McClatchy DC. Retrieved August 2, 2017.
  9. ^ a b Kesling, Ben (June 26, 2018). "VA Nominee Faces Questions on Role in Jesse Helms Races". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  10. ^ a b Murphy, Brian (May 18, 2018). "Trump picks North Carolina's Robert Wilkie to lead the VA". The News & Observer.
  11. ^ "United States Department of Defense".
  12. ^ Rosenbleeth, Herb, "Robert Wilkie Nominated for VA Secretary", (Jewish War Veterans of the USA website), July 3, 2018. Retrieved 2020-12-10.
  13. ^ Bender, Bryan (May 11, 2007). "Pentagon restricting who can testify before Congress". SF Gate. Boston Globe. Retrieved August 2, 2017.
  14. ^ Schallhorn, Kaitlyn (May 18, 2018). "Who is Robert Wilkie? 4 things to know about Trump's Veterans Affairs secretary". Fox News. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  15. ^ "The Honorable Robert Wilkie, Secretary of Veterans Affairs", "Anywhere to Anywhere, Together: Speakers ..." page 1 of 29 at (Ajit Pai, p. 2 eg), n.d. The Anywhere to Anywhere, Together initiative included a 2018 conference. Retrieved 2020-12-10.
  16. ^ III, Leo Shane (August 22, 2017). "Trump nominates Wilkie, Kurta to oversee Pentagon personnel issues". Military Times. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  17. ^ "PN813 — Robert L. Wilkie — Department of Defense". U.S. Congress. November 16, 2017. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  18. ^ Brooks, Drew. "Fayetteville native Robert Wilkie confirmed by unanimous consent by U.S. Senate". The Fayetteville Observer. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  19. ^ @realdonaldtrump (March 28, 2018). "Ronnie Jackson will be new VA Secretary, Hon. Robert Wilkie will be the interim" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  20. ^ "100 Most Influential People in Healthcare - 2019". Modern Healthcare. Retrieved December 30, 2019.
  21. ^ Lejeune, Tristan (March 2, 2020). "White House adds VA secretary, CMS chief to coronavirus task force". TheHill. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  22. ^ Rein, Lisa; Spencer S. Hsu (December 9, 2020). "VA watchdog told prosecutors his probe of Secretary Wilkie's effort to discredit House staffer turned up possible criminal conduct". The Washington Post.
  23. ^ Rein, Lisa (February 8, 2020). "A chief Wilkie sought to dig up dirt on woman who complained of sexual assault, agency insiders say". The Washington Post.
  24. ^ Arnsdorf, Isaac, "Inside Trump’s VA: VA Secretary Looked for Dirt on a House Staffer Who Reported Sexual Assault in a VA Hospital, Complaint Says", ProPublica, February 7, 2020. Retrieved 2021-01-13.
  25. ^ The Editorial Board, "Opinion: Fire Robert Wilkie", New York Times, December 18, 2020. Cited in the editorial via embedded link (at "called for ..."): Alex Ward, "Why veterans groups want Trump’s VA secretary to resign",, December 17, 2020. Retrieved 2020-12-19.
  26. ^ Kaczynski, Andrew (December 7, 2018). "VA secretary praised Confederate president as a "martyr to 'The Lost Cause'" in 1995 speech". CNN. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  27. ^ Selk, Avi (December 10, 2018). "Trump's VA secretary is a fan of Jefferson Davis. But Davis was loathed in the Confederacy". St. Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  28. ^ Itkowitz, Colby (June 27, 2018). "The Health 202: 'We will hold you accountable.' Democrats grill Azar on family separations". Washington Post. Retrieved December 9, 2018.
  29. ^ Kaczynski, Andrew (December 14, 2018). "VA secretary gave inaccurate answers on pro-Confederate ties during confirmation process". CNN. Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  30. ^ Kaczynski, Andrew (January 4, 2019). "VA Secretary Robert Wilkie didn't disclose pro-Confederate associations on confirmation paperwork". CNN.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Dan Stanley
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs
September 30, 2006 – January 19, 2009
Succeeded by
Elizabeth King
Preceded by
Jessica L. Wright
Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness
November 30, 2017 – July 30, 2018
Succeeded by
Matthew Donovan
Preceded by
David Shulkin
Acting United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs
March 28, 2018 – May 29, 2018
Succeeded by
Peter O'Rourke
Preceded by
David Shulkin
United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs
July 30, 2018 – present
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Mick Zais
as Acting Secretary of Education
Order of precedence of the United States
as Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Succeeded by
Pete Gaynor
as Acting Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. presidential line of succession
Preceded by
Mick Zais
as Acting Secretary of Education
17th in line
as Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Succeeded by
Pete Gaynor
as Acting Secretary of Homeland Security