How a veteran’s secret podcast put her in the Trump administration’s crosshairs
By day, Allison Gill was a high-level employee at the Department of Veterans Affairs, working on healthcare for the military and veterans.
By night — and on weekends — she was secretly recording a podcast that was attracting thousands of listeners, and on a very sensitive subject for the president for whom she worked: special counsel Robert Muller’s probe of the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia.
Gill took pains to stay anonymous. And she kept a strict firewall between the podcast and her day job, mindful not to violate a decades-old law called the Hatch Act that prohibits federal employees from engaging in some forms of political activity.
Now, two and a half years later, Gill, herself a veteran, says she was essentially forced out of her job following an internal V.A. investigation of the podcast —called Mueller She Wrote — during which she was questioned about how she could record a podcast and perform live shows while claiming to have post-traumatic stress disorder.
The episode raises thorny questions about where the government can draw the line on an employee’s free speech, even as it lends ballast to President Donald Trump’s claims that a “deep state” is working to undermine his administration from within.
“It was totally retaliatory,” Gill’s lawyer, Cathy Harris, said of the podcast investigation. “It was just meant to harass her and get rid of her. They were acting like private detectives.”
Gill has challenged her firing and filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint alleging that she was discriminated against and harassed. Asked for comment, a V.A. spokesperson said “we are contesting these allegations in the appropriate forum and cannot comment further due to pending litigation.”
Gill joined the V.A. as a medical clerk in 2009 because, she says, “as a military sexual trauma survivor I answered Obama’s call to serve my country. I wanted to help other survivors and veterans.” By 2015 she had earned a doctorate of health administration and was promoted to a health systems specialist, serving as the V.A.’s liaison to the Pentagon overseeing the contract for the military’s healthcare program in the west region.
Things started to get strange in 2016, Gill said. Early that year, she sought and obtained permission from her supervisor at the time to run to be a delegate at the DNC, a race she lost. She was permitted to do so as long as she didn’t represent herself publicly as a V.A. employee, and was told by her supervisor to simply remove her place of work from her Facebook page during the election, she says.
Within one month of Trump’s victory, Gill says she was told by the V.A. that a Freedom of Information Act request had been filed by government lawyers for all of her employee records — she still doesn’t know who exactly requested them, or why.
“I was told I didn’t have a say in the matter,” she said.
Still, when the Mueller investigation began a few months later, Gill was undeterred—and decided to launch a podcast about the probe in her free time. “I thought it was fascinating, of historical relevance, and I have always been into politics,” she said. “I’m a civil servant, I’m former military, and I think our system of government is really interesting. I thought to myself that in 20 or 30 years they’re going to be doing documentaries on the Mueller investigation, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Gill started the podcast out of her kitchen, and the first episode was released just after Mueller brought charges against Trump’s former campaign advisers Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos in October 2017. Before the first episode aired, Gill set ground rules for her colleagues so that they would all stay within the bounds of the Hatch Act.
“This is an official notice from me, Allison Gill, owner of Mueller, She Wrote LLC, writing to inform you that no one may post any fundraising requests for political campaigns from any official Mueller, She Wrote social media account including Instagram, Facebook (both the Mueller, She Wrote page and the Friends of Justice Page), Twitter, Snapchat, or any other platform at any time,” Gill wrote in an email.
“You also cannot use the MSW accounts to like, share, or retweet political fund raising posts,” it continued. “Furthermore, no posts of any political nature can be made between the hours of 0630 and 1600 PDT/PST Monday – Friday (holidays excluded- please refer to the official federal holidays and holidays observed list at Office of Personnel Management Website) from any official Mueller, She Wrote account. Further, no liking or sharing/re-tweeting of such posts is permitted during those hours.”
Gill introduced herself on the show as A.G., explaining that “because of the Hatch Act, because of my work with the federal government, I’m not allowed to associate myself or my title with any political discussions.”
Gill and her co-hosts, comedians Jordan Coburn and Jaleesa Johnson, appealed to a larger audience by breaking down developments in the Mueller probe with increasingly high-profile guests — including former deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul — and a lot of snark. One recurring segment was the “Fantasy Indictment League,” in which the hosts would bet on who was most likely to get indicted next.
The podcast quickly gained a devoted following — as of its final episode earlier this month, the Mueller She Wrote Twitter account had amassed nearly 90,000 followers—but Gill continued to keep her real name and employer a secret. By August 2019, the podcast had an audience of 250,000 with about 600,000 downloads per month, Gill said, and many of their live shows — they did 12 shows in 2019 at theatres holding upwards of 300 seats each—were sold out. The podcast continued after Mueller’s probe ended in April 2019, with discussions ranging from former Trump adviser Roger Stone’s trial to the so-called “Obamagate” scandal coined by the president.
In early April 2019, though, Gill said she was blindsided when her new supervisor told her that her job would be moving across the country, from San Diego to Washington, D.C., despite her position having been moved to California in 2015, Gill said. She suspected she was being retaliated against, not only for her political views, but also because she had complained about comments made by her supervisor and others that appeared to make light of PTSD.
Gill also pointed to a comment then-White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney made in August 2019 about inducing federal employees to quit by moving their jobs — Mulvaney was referring to moving them out of D.C. “into the real part of the country,” but Gill believed the tactic was being used in her situation as well, since she had informed her previous boss months earlier that she couldn’t apply for a higher-level position because it would require her to relocate to the East Coast.
“Now, it’s nearly impossible to fire a federal worker,” Mulvaney said at the time, speaking at a GOP event. “I know that because a lot of them work for me. And I’ve tried. And you can’t do it. But simply saying to the people, you know what, we’re going to take you outside the bubble, outside the Beltway, outside this liberal haven and move you out into the real part of the country, and they quit. What a wonderful way to streamline government and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time.”
Instead of quitting, Gill decided to take a 12-week, unpaid leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act, citing her post-traumatic stress, which made it difficult to work in an office environment. When she was again told, via a letter while on leave, that her job would be moving across the country, she again said she couldn’t relocate and accepted that she was going to be fired.
“Instead, they brought me back and interrogated me about my podcast,” Gill said.
According to a report filed by Gill’s then-supervisor Patrick Grady about the investigation he conducted of the podcast, which was produced by the V.A. to Gill after she was terminated, Grady confronted Gill with social media posts and photos of herself “on tour” with the podcast while on leave and asked how she could interact with fans and travel if she had PTSD and was unable to work in an office. It’s not clear what the basis for the investigation was, given that none of Gill’s appearances on the podcast or on tour mentioned the V.A. or revealed her real name. The V.A. declined to respond, citing the ongoing litigation.
“She responded that she was able to do these events as these are a hobby that she enjoys, and they do not exacerbate PTS,” Grady wrote in his report to the V.A.’s Office of General Counsel, which tasked Grady with the probe. “Those events are not linked to trauma.”
Gill was never formally accused of wrongdoing for running the podcast. But the V.A. ultimately terminated her for “medical unfitness” after the investigation ended. Gill had requested to work remotely instead of moving to Washington and, when denied, filed an EEO complaint alleging that the V.A. had discriminated against her based on her PTSD.
The episode raised the eyebrows of a former Trump cabinet official: former V.A. Secretary David Shulkin, who Gill interviewed on the podcast late last year.
“I’ve been doing this project almost two years to the day, and I haven’t told anyone yet, but I am a V.A. employee,” Gill told Shulkin in a portion of the interview that was not released publicly. She explained that “at the height of our podcast, I was informed that my job was moving to D.C.,” and asked Shulkin whether the justification the V.A. had given her for that relocation—a modernization effort—was something he was aware of while leading the department.
“I was not, and I did not interpret the word ‘modernization’ to mean a restructuring of the workforce,” Shulkin said. “So that is new news to me…it’s sad for me to hear that people who have the experience and are as dedicated as you appear to be, for the right reasons, are leaving the organization because that’s really a brain drain. We need career employees to feel that they’re secure and to continue doing the work that they love doing.”
For now, Gill is finding success in a Mueller She Wrote spinoff called The Daily Beans—described by Gill as a “a daily progressive news podcast (with swears!) for your weekday morning commute.”