Jack Crowe on February 12, 2018
Department of Veterans Affairs investigators are expected to accuse Secretary David Shulkin of a range of ethics violations including improperly accepting Wimbledon tickets and using public funds to pay for his wife’s international air travel.
A VA Inspector General report should be released this week but some of its particulars can be construed from a rebuttal drafted by Shulkin’s attorney and obtained by USA TODAY.
Shulkin will likely be accused of accepting Wimbledon tickets from an individual who did not have business before the VA, but who could not properly qualify as a personal friend. His lawyers also anticipate he’ll be accused of improperly classifying a European trip due to the amount of leisure time Shulkin and his wife enjoyed.
The rebuttal accuses government investigators of “presenting a one-sided version of events,” in their rebuttal.
“The draft report ignores critical facts, presenting a one-sided version of events that casts aside evidence contradicting your chosen narrative,” Shulkin’s lawyers, Justin Shur, Eric Nitz, and Emily Damrau, wrote.
“And it imposes subjective and arbitrary criteria for evaluating the propriety of the Secretary’s actions,” the attorneys added.
Shulkin’s defense team claims the couple engaged in sightseeing at their own expense in the four days between official meetings in Denmark on July 14 and London on July 18, adding that Shulkin’s wife’s airfare was approved by VA ethics officials absent a request from Shulkin himself.
“In fact, Secretary Shulkin and Dr. Bari were prepared to pay for Dr. Bari’s travel as they always had done previously,” they wrote. “It was only when staff approached the Secretary to suggest Dr. Bari’s travel could be reimbursed that Secretary Shulkin became aware that was a possibility.”
Shulkin and his wife were given tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament by Victoria Gosling, a strategic adviser to wounded warrior charity, Invictus Games UK. Gosling met Shulkin and his wife on a number of occasions at events in the U.S., but Gosling was unable to remember Shulkin’s wife name when contacted by investigators — a fact they will likely cite in arguing she is not a personal friend.
“The investigators unexpectedly called me on my mobile phone whilst I was driving on a very busy highway,” Gosling wrote. “Given the nature of the interview, I felt flustered and could not remember Merle’s name.”
Shulkin’s lawyers will argue that since Gosling had no business before the VA the tickets were not provided to secure favor.
The ethical questions surrounding Shulkin come after Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price was pushed out in September after he used more than $400,000 in public funds to charter private jets.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also came under scrutiny for his private air travel cost taxpayers more than $800,000, but he was eventually vindicated after the inspector general found in October that he did not break the law.