At least two veterans died in the assault on the United States Capitol Wednesday by a mob of protesters, but Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie was the last of President Donald Trump's cabinet to condemn the violence and took two days to do so.
"Our veterans fought to defend the freedoms that were attacked this week," Wilkie said in a tweet Friday morning. "The assault on the Capitol is an affront to all who have worn the uniform."
Wilkie's late response was because he was "touring hurricane-ravaged facilities (from late 2020) in Louisiana" on Thursday, VA Press Secretary Christina Noel told Connecting Vets on Friday. It was not immediately clear if Wilkie lacked internet or cell phone service in the areas he visited, limiting his ability to send such a tweet earlier.
One veteran among the mob of protesters that stormed the Capitol, clashed with police and forced their way inside causing widespread lockdowns and evacuations, tear gas deployed in the rotunda and an armed standoff at the doors of the House chamber, was Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt who was shot and killed inside.
Early reports suggest U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who the police force said died of injuries he experienced "while physically engaging with protesters" was also a veteran. Sicknick's brother told The Daily Beast that he was a former Air National Guardsman who served in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Enduring Freedom before becoming a police officer. As of Friday morning, USCP and the Defense Department had yet to confirm Sicknick's veteran status.
Officials have confirmed at least five people have now died during or as a result of the riots at the Capitol, including Babbitt, Sicknick and three others who died of medical emergencies. Pipe bombs were also found in the district Wednesday, though they were safely detonated by law enforcement and no one was injured.
Wilkie and VA were silent following the violence at the nation's Capitol, and VA did not respond to requests for comment until after his tweet. Wilkie was the last of the president's cabinet to denounce the attack on the Capitol. Wilkie has been one of Trump's most loyal cabinet members and has been under fire recently for unrelated reasons.
Just weeks ago, every major national veteran service organization, and many other veteran groups, lawmakers and individual veterans, demanded Wilkie's immediate removal or resignation following a damning federal watchdog report that found he and his senior staff sought to discredit a veteran who reported being sexually assaulted at a VA hospital.