Rep. Dan Crenshaw Linked to Smear Campaign of Female Vet Led by VA Secretary, Watchdog Says

An investigation from the independent government watchdog that oversees the Department of Veterans Affairs concluded Thursday that a Republican member of Congress was involved in an orchestrated campaign by V.A. Secretary Robert Wilkie to disparage the reputation of a female veteran who alleged she was sexually assaulted at a V.A. facility.

The 68-page report from the V.A. Office of Inspector General (OIG) stated that three witnesses said Wilkie informed them that Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) gave him information about the female veteran that could erode her credibility. Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, served in the same unit as the female veteran, Andrea Goldstein.

In addition to suggesting a sitting member of Congress funneled potentially harmful and false information to the V.A. secretary amid an endeavor to discredit a sexual assault survivor's allegation, the report detailed the V.A.'s improper handling of the incident.

V.A. Inspector General Michael Missal characterized the handling of Goldstein's allegations by Wilkie, an appointee of President Donald Trump, and other senior agency officials as "troubling."

"Scrutinizing the veteran's background is contrary to V.A.'s stated goal to serve veterans with respect," Missal said in a statement. "Every V.A. employee should commit to making V.A. facilities safe and welcoming places where such complaints are met with the highest standards of professionalism and responsiveness."

Crenshaw's office did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment or questions about why the lawmaker and his communications director refused to cooperate with the OIG, as the report stated.

Dan Crenshaw
Representative Dan Crenshaw questions witnesses during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing about "Worldwide threats to the Homeland" on Capitol Hill on September 17 in Washington, DC. CHIP SOMODEVILLA/POOL/AFP/Getty

Mark Zaid, Goldstein's attorney, told Newsweek in a statement that Crenshaw's "silence says it all."

Crenshaw and Wilkie have both claimed that Goldstein has made false or exaggerated sexual assault allegations in the past. The report stated that, according to three witnesses' accounts, Wilkie said Crenshaw relayed information to him about her complaints during active duty.

Both men have also previously contended that the controversy around their alleged actions were the plot of a liberal hoax that extended as high up as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) because Goldstein is a staffer for House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.).

The OIG report concluded that while it could not "substantiate" that Wilkie "investigated or caused others to investigate the background" of Goldstein, they received sworn testimony from senior department officials that Wilkie and others referred to Goldstein "in denigrating terms, openly questioned her credibility, and reportedly ascribed a political motive to her reporting of the incident."

The report also said Wilkie and senior department officials tried to plant negative media stories about Goldstein or funnel information to malign her credibility.

In a lengthy statement, Wilkie denied any such assertions and said the OIG could not substantiate certain claims "because these allegations are false." He added that the V.A. "takes all allegations of sexual assault seriously."

"What's more," Wilkie continued, "the IG could not identify a single instance in which any VA employee violated any rule, regulation or policy. If it had, it would have issued recommendations, which it did not."

Goldstein, the female veteran and alleged victim, accused Wilkie and those close to him of violating the Sailor's Creed.

Robert Wilkie
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie speaks during an East Room event to announce the “PREVENTS Task Force” at the White House June 17 in Washington, DC. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty

"I have proudly served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy in the active duty and reserve for 11 years," she told Newsweek in a statement. "The final line of the Sailor's Creed is, 'I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all.' Secretary Wilkie and his close associates did the opposite."

Two of Wilkie's top deputies—chief of staff Pam Powers and Brooks Tucker, the then-assistant secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs—told the OIG that Wilkie made remarks during a daily staff meeting in October 2019 about Goldstein's reputation based on information they thought came from Crenshaw.

In a separate incident, on December 4, 2019, Wilkie told the OIG that Crenshaw approached him at a fundraiser to discuss Goldstein's case, which had since come to light in several media accounts.

Wilkie said that the extent of his conversation with Crenshaw was that the former Navy SEAL said he had served with Goldstein and that no further information was discussed.

However, four minutes after leaving the fundraiser, the OIG report states that Wilkie sent an email to Powers and Tucker, which suggested Crenshaw had relayed damaging information about Goldstein. The email and Crenshaw's alleged involvement was reported by Newsweek last month.

"Ask me in the morning what Congressman Crenshaw said about the Takano staffer whose glamor shot was in The New York Times," Wilkie wrote to Power and Tucker, referring to an op-ed penned by Goldstein.

Crenshaw later denied to Newsweek he ever spoke of Goldstein with Wilkie. He claimed that Wilkie likely mentioned him in the email because the two recently had lunch together. However, the private lunch Crenshaw referred to did not occur until more than two weeks later on December 19, 2019, according to the OIG report.

Dan Crenshaw
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) speaks during the CPAC Direct Action Training at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center February 26 in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty

"He probably brought up my name because of the timing, like we met at the same time and he knows that I know her," Crenshaw told Newsweek last month. "It was just ironic. It was coincidental."

"The Democrats created this narrative. They're so good at this, it's unbelievable," Crenshaw continued. "They take a few facts, and then they construct a narrative."

The connection between Wilkie and Crenshaw was supported by Jim Byrne, the former Deputy Secretary of the V.A. under Wilkie, who alleged in an interview with Newsweek last month that he was fired for refusing to damage the reputation of Goldstein.

"From the very beginning, [Wilkie] was saying it was all BS, that it was totally orchestrated," Byrne said at the time, "that this thing was totally orchestrated by Goldstein and Takano to attack him and the V.A."

Byrne said Thursday that he had yet to read the report, but "stood by the statements he gave the IG and Newsweek," adding that "truth and rule of law mattered."

This story was updated to include a statement from Sec. Wilkie.

Correction 12/10 8:45 pm: This story was further updated to remove a quote from the IG that was wrongly attributed to describe Byrne's allegations. We regret the error.