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March 24 2018, 07:51 | Irvin Gilbert
Veterans Affairs Chief Improperly Accepted Wimbledon Tickets – Which He Turned Into a Trip Costing Taxpayers Over $120,000
In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota asked the department to look into "claims of email intrusion and tampering on government computers and networks", claims that David Shulkin made in an interview Wednesday, citing evidence provided by his chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson.
"I have respect for the job the IG needs to do", he said.
Shulkin is the only holdover from the Obama administration in President Trump's Cabinet. Tom Price was dismissed as secretary of health and human services over his use of private jets.
Shulkin testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday.
"You've been very vocal on that and I think you've been right", Shulkin said. "Ms. Wright Simpson's false representations and adjustment of an official record may have violated federal criminal statutes", the report said, adding that the inspector general had referred the matter to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. Shulkin's office responded that he does not agree with the OIG's conclusions on these two recommendations, and that he will consult with the Office of General Counsel before deciding how to act on them. Joining him on this trip were his wife, a small staff, and a six person security detail. Their pleasure trips included visits to palaces around Denmark, a boat tour, shopping, and unplanned trips into Sweden for dinner during the continental part of their trip. Shulkin and his wife received the Wimbledon tickets as a gift from Victoria Gosling, the head of social impact for the for-profit social impact group Auden. Wimbledon tickets? High tea? Shulkin himself wrote to the inspector general that the trip was indeed valuable for the VA and that the report "draws conclusions based on subjective and arbitrary criteria", The Hill reports.
The IG's office said the entire trip amounted to a "misuse of VA resources", and referred several allegations from the report to the Justice Department, which has decided not prosecute at this time.
But the audit found the trip may have violated a cost-saving directive that Shulkin had issued to the department weeks prior to the trip to avoid unnecessary expenses. But the gift-giver "was unable to recall Dr. Bari's name" when questioned by investigators.
"I've already written a check to the Treasury", Shulkin told lawmakers during a previously scheduled hearing meant to focus on VA's $200 billion budget proposal. The report recommends that Shulkin reimburse Gosling for the tickets. It also alleged that Shulkin's chief of staff altered a document and misrepresented information to ethics officials that ultimately caused his wife's airfare to be covered by taxpayer dollars.
The report reads: "Secretary Shulkin stated that he also worked on other VA matters during the trip when there were no official functions, which is corroborated by his handling of matters relating to a media crisis that developed relating to allegations of substandard care at the Manchester VA Medical Center". At least four other Trump Cabinet members have faced criticism for government travel, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt are both under investigation by their department's internal watchdogs. Perry also has defended his travel as preapproved.