President Donald Trump insists that there is no shortage of talent wanting to fill posts in his administration. But would a president who wasn’t desperate really be considering replacing former Veterans Affairs secretary Shulkin with Fox & Friends host Pete Hegseth, as several outlets report?
Hegseth’s main qualification is that the president has seen him on TV, but a close second is his leadership as CEO of Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) from 2012 to 2016. CVA is an advocacy group whose stated mission is to ‘preserve the freedom and prosperity we and our families fought and sacrificed to defend.’ He has a thin resume for a cabinet-level secretary. Moreover, as Cockburn can reveal, his tenure at CVA, which ended less than a month before the Iowa caucus, was marred by plenty of alleged controversy.
Numerous individuals who worked for the organisation during Hegseth’s leadership described to Cockburn a fraternity-like culture that involved heavy drinking, which resulted in at least one alleged sexual assault complaint.
The complaint was against another employee, not Hegseth, and was handled internally, but in a letter supporting the alleged victim viewed by Cockburn and authenticated by its author, another former employee writes that “It was only a matter of time before a major sexual harassment or unwanted sexual incidents occurred on CVA time based on their sexist and drinking culture.” It also alleges the organisation created an “unhealthy and hostile environment towards women.”
CVA declined to comment despite numerous attempts to contact them by phone and email.
In October, 2014 a no-alcohol policy was put in place. Cockburn spoke to a source who was on the call by which the policy was made known to staffers, who said the cause was more than a dozen separate alcohol-related incidents, by the organisation’s internal count. By November, however, the policy was lifted. There are also numerous allegations about Hegseth himself drinking heavily at CVA events.
Hegseth declined to comment on the record about any specific alleged incidents at CVA. He did, however, provide a statement via his lawyer, Timothy Parlatore:
“These slanderous, unverified accusations—and the narrative they attempt to portray—are completely false. They have been shopped around by the same, small group of disgruntled individuals before—and found baseless. It’s no surprise that a fringe outlet would seize on these salacious claims, to assail the character of an outspoken conservative. I am extremely proud of my track record of aggressive advocacy for our veterans, military, and country—and won’t let Fake News deter that.”
An Instagram post from October 23, 2017 shows Hegseth attended a dinner at the White House with Jennifer Rauchet, a producer on Fox and Friends, the show on which Hegseth became a contributor. Two months earlier Rauchet had given birth to his child. Mediaite reported on their relationship several days after the dinner, describing it as an “Illicit Affair.”
“Jen Rauchet was moved to Watters’ World once she and Pete disclosed their relationship to their supervisor,” a spokesperson for Fox News told Cockburn. Hegseth declined to comment on the record about his relationship with Rauchet.
Trump may not be too bothered about Hegseth’s love life. It is odd, however, that the President, someone who values loyalty highly, should be considering someone for a cabinet-level position who seemed to be in the tank for Trump’s more hawkish adversaries during the primaries.
In October 2015 Hegseth was bashing Trump’s foreign policy views on Fox News, saying they looked a lot like President Obama’s. In November of the same year, Hegseth panned Trump’s VA reform plan. At CVA, too, Hegseth was far from a friend to Trump — several former staffers described a pattern in which pro-Trump staffers were allegedly marginalised. It became increasingly clear that opinions on Trump between CVA’s leadership and the rank-and-file diverged significantly.
There may be no shortage of people wanting to serve in the Trump administration. Whether they are people whom Trump would really want to be serving in his government is another matter.