Failed Indian Health Service nominee lashes out after being abandoned


Failed Trump nominee dishes dirt on 'coerced' decision
By Kevin Abourezk

Robert Weaver, President Donald Trump’s failed pick to lead the Indian Health Service, is lashing out after the White House abandoned his nomination without so much as an explanation.

In a letter to tribal leaders and supporters, Weaver on Thursday said he was forced to drop out of the process amid doubts about his qualifications.

“Regardless of what the press reports may say, I was forced out,” Weaver said. “I was involuntarily withdrawn.”

In an email to Indianz.Com on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services declined to say whether Weaver had withdrawn his nomination or if the president had. No explanation was given for the development.

According to Weaver, he had no choice in the matter.

In the letter, he said he was told last Friday afternoon that he had “two minutes” to decide whether to bow out or “face the public humiliation of having the White House withdraw his nomination.”

Weaver claims he was given no reason for the administration's decision, nor was he given time to speak to his own advisers.

'I WAS FORCED OUT' -- Robert Weaver dishes dirt on failed nomination

After stewing over the matter during the Presidents' Day holiday weekend, Weaver said he attempted to rescind his "coerced withdrawal" on Tuesday, when the government got back to work.

But he said he was told that he wouldn’t be allowed to do that.

Following an 11-month vetting process -- including an "extensive" FBI background check and an "exhaustive" review by the Office of Government Ethics -- Weaver criticized his handlers within the administration for forcing him to make a decision on his future on short notice. He also said he endured “slanderous reports” in the news media.

“The past few days I have been fighting a battle to reclaim the nomination to no avail,” he said. “Some in DC both in and out of government and even a small group from Indian Country made the decision for me and you that I was not the right person to lead IHS.”

He said he doesn’t know whether President Trump even knows of the "coerced nature" of his withdrawal.

“Based on what I have seen, I am inclined to believe that he was not made aware,” Weaver said. “The President has been an ardent supporter of fixing Indian Health throughout this process.”

He said he plans to continue to see to fight for change within IHS, despite his failed nomination.

“We can fix this together,” he said in his letter to tribal leaders and supporters.

Weaver’s failed bid represents a rarity for the IHS, which has never seen a president's nominee fail to advance in the process, though former IHS director Chuck Grim withdrew his nomination to a second term as director in 2007.

Weaver, on the other hand, never even received a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, another rarity for an Indian affairs post in any presidential administration.

O.J. Semans, Sr., a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe who closely followed the process, said he was disappointed in how Weaver’s nomination was handled by Congress.

“I am upset on how individuals within the government were able to use their influence with Congress to ignore the requests of tribal leaders and members who have and are still suffering from the atrocities created by IHS,” Semans said in a message on Thursday. “I know that tribal leaders knocked on the doors of the Senate and the Indian Affairs Committee personally giving their support for Mr. Weaver and have been asking for an expedited hearing all of which was ignored.”

Other tribal leaders, meanwhile, decried the continued lack of a director for an agency that oversees health care for more than 2.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives.

“We are a year and a quarter into this new administration and we still don’t have a leader for IHS,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said on Thursday. “This is unacceptable. We need a leader who understands the health issues that Indian Country faces, as well as policies and procedures that govern our health care facilities.”

Vinton Hawley, the chairman of the National Indian Health Board and chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, noted that the IHS has been without a permanent director since 2015.

"Without permanent leadership in place, it is very difficult for the IHS to set long-term policy, engage with tribes on an equal footing, and uphold the federal government's trust responsibility,” Hawley said on Wednesday. “We urge President Trump to engage with tribes on a new nominee as soon as possible."

Weaver, a citizen of the Quapaw Tribe, had come under fire in recent months for possibly misrepresenting his credentials and educational history, as well as for leaving a former employer in financial trouble, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to The Journal, Weaver fell behind on billing insurance companies and collecting payments for Herndon Snider & Associates, a mental health service provider. He also had been questioned for failing to disclose all of his campaign contributions to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, which was established to re-elect Trump, Roll Call reported.

In a letter sent to tribal leaders earlier this week, Semans called on them to demand a confirmation hearing for Weaver. He also criticized The Journal’s reporting and accused Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the Democratic vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, of using the newspaper to stall the nomination.

“I find it disturbing that Senator Udall is providing questions to the WSJ and then he is using those same questions to hold up Mr. Weaver’s nomination hearing before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee,” Semans said earlier this week.

Christopher Weaver, one of The Journal reporters who wrote about Weaver’s troubled nomination, disputed Semans’ description of his newspaper’s reporting on Thursday. He told Indianz.Com that he and fellow reporter Dan Frosch had been examining problems within IHS for more than a year when they learned of Weaver’s nomination. They attempted to contact the nominee, but he declined to comment.

So the two reporters began contacting Robert Weaver’s former employers.

Robert Weaver, a citizen of the Quapaw Tribe, was nominated to serve as director of the Indian Health Service but never secured a confirmation hearing in the Senate. The White House has since abandoned his nomination. Courtesy photo

“Their recollections of his experience in some cases did not comport with Mr. Weaver's own representations about his professional life,” Christopher Weaver said. “We also turned up potentially significant professional and financial details that Mr. Weaver appeared to omit from those representations.”

That’s when the two reporters contacted Udall’s office to get responses to their reporting, he said.

For his part, Udall this week called on President Trump to select a strong nominee to lead the IHS, which has faced long-running questions about the substandard quality of care.

“Recent reports that Mr. Weaver intends to withdraw himself from consideration seem appropriate given the serious questions recently raised about his suitability to lead a vitally important health agency overseeing critical care for over 2 million people across the nation," Udall said. "Now the Trump administration must honor its trust responsibilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives and nominate — and fully vet — a director with the strongest possible combination of leadership and fiduciary skills as well as experience running a large public health system."

"I urge the administration to work to prioritize upholding the government-to-government relationship by seeking tribal input as it begins the process of selecting a replacement nominee," Udall said.

The IHS isn't the only federal agency without a permanent leader. Tara Sweeney, whom Trump nominated as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, has yet to receive a confirmation hearing. Sweeney would be the first Alaska Native to oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Just last week, Trump nominated Jean Carol Hovland, a citizen of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, to serve as the Commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans, another agency within the HHS. Her nomination would be handled by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Note: O.J. Semans Sr. spoke to Indianz.Com in his personal capacity, not as a representative of any tribe or tribal organization. This post has been updated to reflect the nature of his comments, as well as the nature of his dissatisfaction with the way Robert Weaver was treated.

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Trending in News
More Headlines