WASHINGTON – Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough faced intense questioning Wednesday from Republican lawmakers regarding allegations of sexual misconduct among the department’s high-ranking employees.

The House Veterans Affairs’ Committee decided in a bipartisan vote on January 11 to subpoena McDonough over documents related to accusations of sexual harassment within the VA’s Office of Resolution Management, Diversity & Inclusion. Committee Chairman Mike Bost (R-Ill.) called the office a “broken organization” poisoned by “toxic culture and bad leadership.”

“The findings of this report are damning, disturbing and despicable,” Bost said. “As a father of daughters, this blatant dereliction of duty makes me sick.”

Three employees of the division – Archie Davis, Gary Richardson and Harvey Johnson – have been accused in a whistleblower complaint of pursuing inappropriate sexual relationships with subordinate female employees. Davis exchanged “graphic” text messages with a subordinate, said Bost, citing a whistleblower.

Various whistleblowers testified behind closed doors shortly prior to the hearing. The transcripts of these testimonies have not been made public.

McDonough repeatedly denied knowing about sexual harassment occuring within his department, stating that he was not aware of a September 2023 letter detailing specific incidents of misconduct until Bost brought it to his attention in November. On Nov. 15, Gina Grosso – who declined to appear as a witness – quietly informed McDonough that she would resign as assistant secretary for Human Resources and Administration.

“The VA does not tolerate sexual harassment,” McDonough told the committee. “My unwavering commitment is to ensure that every employee works in a safe, welcoming, harassment-free environment.”

Republican lawmakers, however, were not swayed, saying the VA is “full of misconduct.”

“I don’t consider this to be a partisan or political process,” Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa) said. “I find the conduct of this office deplorable. Culture starts at the top, and you have a top that is wrong.”

Democrats accused Republicans of both exaggerating the severity of the alleged misconduct as well as conflating sexual harassment with interactions of a sexually inappropriate nature.

“The conspiracy that the majority has pushed is not reflective of reality or facts,” ranking member Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said. “My colleagues across the aisle are either being intentionally reckless or cavalier with the truth or willfully blind.”

Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) pointed to Republicans’ histories of hypocrisy concerning the protection of women and underrepresented populations. Six of the eight Republicans on the committee, she said, voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2022 – a landmark piece of legislation that mandates protections for survivors of domestic violence.

Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) similarly slammed Republicans for weaponizing the sensitive nature of this topic, especially for women.

“I belive the approach my colleagues are following will cause lasting harm to how we as a nation address the very real threat of sexual violence and harrasment in the workplace,” Ramirez said. “Exploiting pain for political points is not going to get us closer to addressing the failures in federal policy that address sexual harassment.”

House committee members on both sides of the political aisle emphasized the importance of increased workplace oversight and advancing federal legislation that safeguards against harassment and discrimination on the basis of sex.

“Public servants at the VA deserve a safe work environment,” Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.) said. “I hope we use this moment to figure out what we can do better.” 

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