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Trump nominates Robert Wilkie to head Veterans Affairs

The president had previously nominated White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson for the job, but he withdrew last month.
Trump shakes hands with acting Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie
President Donald Trump shakes hands with acting Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie after announcing he will nominate him to lead the department during an event at the White House on May 18, 2018.Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday that he is nominating Robert Wilkie to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The president announced the nomination during remarks at a White House prison reform summit, noting that he may have "ruined the surprise" for Wilkie, who was in attendance.

"I'll be informing him in a little while — he doesn't know this yet — that we're going to be putting his name up for nomination to be secretary of the Veterans Administration," Trump said.

The president added that Wilkie has done "an incredible job" in an acting capacity.

Wilkie comes from the Pentagon, where he is currently the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. He has been serving as the VA's acting secretary since the president fired former Secretary David Shulkin in late March.

The president's initial pick to replace Shulkin at the VA — Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson — last month withdrew his name from consideration following a barrage of allegations of past misconduct.

A source with direct knowledge told NBC News that after Jackson dropped out, Trump took a second look at Wilkie. The president ultimately decided Wilkie was well-qualified and and that he would support the White House agenda.

A second source said before the Friday announcement, Wilkie was already poised to permanently stay in the role, given support and backing from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

When asked for comment, the VA referred questions to the White House.

Wilkie, 55, is a veteran GOP aide and a former adviser to North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis.