Watchdog report faults VA chief over Europe trip expenses

Last Updated Feb 14, 2018 12:56 PM EST

WASHINGTON — An internal watchdog’s investigation has found that Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tennis tickets and likely wrongly used taxpayer money to cover his wife’s airfare for an 11-day European trip. The report also questions Shulkin’s decision to direct agency staff on official time to arrange his personal sightseeing activities during the July trip to England and Denmark.

The inspector general’s audit is the latest in a controversy over misuse of government travel by top Trump administration officials.

Shulkin’s lawyers said he did nothing improper. A department spokesman said Shulkin “travels far less than any recent VA secretary” and takes no private jets. Shulkin himself issued a lengthy statement calling the report false, in a rare, personal rebuke of an IG report.

“The report is neither accurate nor objective,” Shulkin said, although he disputed no details in the report. “It is a direct assault on my spouse, my character, and my unblemished record of service to veterans. … I have done nothing wrong.”

Details of the European trip, which included visits to Westminster Abbey and Wimbledon, were first reported last year by The Washington Post. While the trip to Denmark and the U.K. was focused on veterans issues, Shulkin and his wife also devoted significant time to leisure activities paid for by U.S. government dollars, CBS News’ Jacqueline Alemany reported.

An itinerary details conferences on veterans policy and meetings with various government officials, as well as time carved out of his schedule for extracurricular activities. In London, Shulkin and his wife, Dr. Merle Bari, attended Wimbledon and visited Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. They took a cruise down the Thames River followed by “dinner/ evening in Piccadilly Circus” and spent their first day in Denmark visiting various castles throughout Copenhagen.  

Shulkin announced in a statement in September that the VA would be posting all official travel taken since January 20 on the VA website. “Under this administration, VA is committed to becoming the most transparent organization in government, and I’m pleased to take another step in that direction with this move,” Shulkin said in a statement. “Veterans and taxpayers have a right to know about my official travel as secretary, and posting this information online for all to see will do just that.”

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