Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s chief of staff altered an email and mislead ethics officials to create an excuse for wife Merle Bari’s 10-day, taxpayer-funded trip to Europe last summer, a report from the VA Inspector General claims.
The report, released Wednesday, found that the third-most senior official at the VA doctored an email from an aide coordinating the trip to make it look as though Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government. The chief of staff then used the “award” to justify Bari’s expenses. According to the report, the VA paid more than $4,300 for her travel.
Additionally, Shulkin is alleged to have improperly accepted a gift of tickets to a Wimbledon match. The investigation found Shulkin treated the aide coordinating the trip as though they were a “personal travel concierge” to him and his wife.
Shulkin has called the report, conducted by his own agency, “neither accurate or objective.”
Secretary Shulkin hits back on this, in what is a very unusual statement in response to an IG report:
"The report is neither accurate nor objective. It is a direct assault on my spouse, my character, and my unblemished record of service to veterans"
"I have done nothing wrong." https://t.co/kgpb7nAhFV
— Katie Watson (@kathrynw5) February 14, 2018
On Wednesday, veteran Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) called for Shulkin’s resignation following the investigation.
“It’s exactly corruption and abuses like this that doesn’t help our veterans,” Coffman tweeted. “@SecShulkin must RESIGN now. @realDonaldTrump ran on accountability, it starts here.”
It's exactly corruption and abuses like this that doesn't help our veterans. @SecShulkin must RESIGN now. @realDonaldTrump ran on accountability, it starts here. VA chief Shulkin, staff misled ethics officials about Eurotrip, report – The Washington Post https://t.co/hJ3slooxQr
— Rep. Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) February 14, 2018
Shulkin is the fifth Trump Cabinet member to be investigated by agency inspectors general over their travel expenses.
In September, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign after it was revealed he chartered a private jet at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars for official business on five separate occasions.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a former Wall Street executive and Hollywood producer worth nearly $350 million dollars, took a military jet from New York to Washington D.C. in August, a flight which cost at least $25,000.
Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has also drawn criticism for his frequent trips back to Oklahoma, where he once served as attorney general. The EPA has confirmed Pruitt took private jets and military planes as part of his travel. Just this week, Pruitt was reported to have taken a $7,000 round-trip flight to Milan. The total cost of the trip cost came out to more than $43,000 dollars, according to the Environmental Integrity Project, which obtained the travel vouchers.
Pruitt’s defense for his expensive travel is that flying coach has yielded “interaction that’s not been the best.”