The President’s Veteran Affairs Secretary, David Shulkin, is the latest member of the Trump administration ensnared in a scandal for spending taxpayer dollars on questionable and inappropriate travel expenses.
Shulkin went on an 11-day junket to Denmark and the United Kingdom last summer for some VA related meetings with his wife, Merle Bari, three other VA officials and a six-member security team at a cost to the government of $122,334.
The Office of the Inspector General investigated and found that “Shulkin and other senior leaders misused VA funds,” according to an official report, “by taking an official July 2017 trip to Europe for more personal than official activities.”
The OIG found that there were meetings with Danish VA health care officials for a day and a half in Copenhagen and a day at a Ministerial Summit On Veterans Affairs in London. Shulkin said he also worked at other times during the trip.
However, the OIG determined that “The group’s schedule….included significant time for preplanned tourist activities by Secretary Shulkin, his wife, and others on the delegation.”
The OIG said “after a thorough investigation,” it had determined that Shulkin’s chief of staff altered a document and misrepresented to ethics officials the purpose of his wife’s role to get her approved as an “invitational traveler,” which allowed him to authorize the VA top pay her travel costs, specifically $4,000 for air travel. The OIG said that his chief of staff should be further investigated and possibly face charges.
The inspector general found “serious derelictions by VA personnel” and outlined five instances of poor judgement or misconduct by David Shulkin and VA Chief of Staff Wright Simpson. https://t.co/PbD43rGsew
— Stars and Stripes (@starsandstripes) February 14, 2018
The OIG also said that Shulkin “improperly accepted a gift of Wimbledon tickets and related hospitality; that a VA employee’s time was “misused” as a “personal travel concierge to plan tourist activities exceeding that necessary for security arrangements; and that “traveler’s documentation was inadequate to determine the trip’s full costs to VA.”
Shulkin had told ethics officials that the Wimbledon tennis tickets were from a personal friend, Victoria Gosling, who is an adviser for the Invictus Games, a sporting event for wounded warriors, reports USA Today.
However, the OIG concluded that was not true. Shulkin had only met Gosling three times, always at official events, and Gosling could not recall his wife’s name.
Shulkin agreed to reimburse the VA for his wife’s air travel and the tennis tickets but insisted he had done nothing wrong and that it is “outrageous” to portray him and his wife “as attempting to take advantage of the government.”
GOP Congressman calls on Shulkin to resign –> https://t.co/MxvYUKFeNe
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) February 14, 2018
Democratic and Republican members of the Senate and House VA committees who were briefed on the results of the OIG’s investigation said in a joint statement that they are “disappointed” by the findings and urged Shulkin to “actively address” all allegations.
Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Jon Tester (D-Montana) and Reps Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn) said, “We believe that public officials must be held to a higher standard, and whether intentional or not, misusing taxpayer dollars is unacceptable.”
Shulkin, the only holdover from the Obama administration in Trump’s Cabinet, is the latest administration appointee to be caught up in improper travel.
Last September, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned after he was found to have spent $400,000 of taxpayer money on charter flights.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in November was called on the carpet by his department OIG for a lack of proper documentation of his air travel, including trips with his wife.
Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury Secretary, was investigated after he used government aircraft for trips that cost at least $800,000. However, after he reimbursed some costs, and withdrew a request to have the government pay for his honeymoon travel, the Treasure Department OIG ruled last October he had not violated any laws
The Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt is still being investigated by the EPA OIG for his extensive travel at the government’s expense, including trips to his former home in Oklahoma.
Incredibly damning report on the VA Secretary that would, in any previous administration, result in his resignation https://t.co/9wwKMA7L6H
— Sam Stein (@samstein) February 14, 2018
There has been a presumption of rights to spend taxpayer dollars by Trump, which has set the standard for a lax performance and record keeping by many of the millionaires and billionaires in the administration.
Unlike the Obama administration where even cabinet Secretaries often traveled on commercial airlines by coach, under Trump a lot of appointees think they have the right to act like their comfort and time are worth spending much more.
As always, the body stinks from the head down, and Shulkin is unlikely to be the last to prove that is true.