Veterans Affairs boss David Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets, allowed wife to fly to Europe on taxpayers' dime, scathing report says

Win McNamee | Getty Images
Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin (L) testifies before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee September 27, 2017 in Washington, DC.

A scathing report released Wednesday criticizes Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin for telling a subordinate to handle personal travel plans for him and his wife during an official trip to Europe. It also criticizes him for improperly accepting Wimbledon tennis tournament tickets as a gift during the trip.

The report, among other "serious derelictions," also accuses Shulkin's chief of staff of potential criminal conduct by making false statements and altering a document so that the Veterans Affairs Department could "improperly" pay for Shulkin's wife to travel to Europe with him, at a cost to taxpayers of $4,312.

The report by the inspector general's office of the VA says that a department worker "effectively acted as a personal travel concierge" to Shulkin and his wife for that trip to Copenhagen and London.

Shuklin and the VA made misstatements to the media about aspects of the trip, the report says, with Shulkin inaccurately claiming to a reporter that he had bought the tennis match tickets.

Inspector General Michael Missal concluded the report by recommending that Shulkin reimburse the VA for his wife's airfare, that he reimburse the woman who gave him the Wimbledon tickets and that Shulkin take appropriate administrative action against his chief of staff, among other steps.

Shulkin, in a response to the report, disputed a number of its conclusions but said he would consult with the VA's general counsel about whether to make the reimbursements recommended. Shulkin also said that the VA had "inadequate opportunity" to review the IG's report in advance of its release.

The White House referred questions about the report to the VA.

VA spokesman Curt Cashour said, "Accountability and transparency are important values at VA under President Trump, and we look forward to reviewing the report and its recommendations in more detail before determining an appropriate response."

A history of travel complaints

The report is just the latest criticism of travel practices by top officials in the Trump administration.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned last summer after news reports said he had repeatedly flown on pricey private jets at taxpayers' expense, as opposed to taking less expensive commercial flights.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is under investigation by his agency's inspector general's office for his own use of expensive travel options.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife, actress Louise Linton, last year agreed to reimburse the government for her travel on a government plane to Kentucky after Linton drew negative attention to that trip by lashing out on Instagram at a woman who had criticized her.

More details on Shulkin's trip

The report on Shulkin by the VA's inspector general's office relates to a 10-day trip that Shulkin took with other VA officials last July to Denmark and London.

Shulkin's wife, dermatologist Dr. Merle Bari, also went on that trip, which cost the VA a total of at least $122,334.

During the trip, Shulkin attended the Ministerial Summit on Veterans' Affairs in London. Earlier in the trip, he met with Danish government officials in Copenhagen, attended a lunch with Danish health-care CEOs, and visited a veterans' home and hospital.

After the trip was over, the IG's office received an anonymous tip that the trip "was a misuse of VA funds" because it "included a significant amount of personal time, including Secretary Shulkin's attendance at the Wimbledon tennis tournament," the report said.

A chart of that trip included in the report indicates that there were less than four days of official scheduled business and more than five days of "scheduled leisure."

"The group's schedule while in Europe ... included significant personal time for sight-seeing and other unofficial activities," the report said.

"Prior to the trip, Secretary Shulkin directed [a subordinate] to work with Dr. Bari to plan personal activities for the Secretary and Dr. Bari during the trip," the report said. "Emails support the conclusion that [the subordinate] made extensive use of official time for planning leisure activities. [The subordinate] effectively acted as a personal travel concierge to the Secretary and Dr. Bari."

Shulkin's chief of staff 'made false representations'

According to IG investigators, Shulkin's chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, before the trip in April "made false representations to a VA ethics official and altered an official record, resulting in VA improperly paying for Dr. Bari's air travel."

The report said that Wright Simpson misled the ethics official by claiming Shulkin would be receiving an award while in Denmark, which Wright Simpson understood to be a justification for Bari to travel with her husband at VA expense.

The chief of staff also altered an email from a staffer to make it appear that a special recognition dinner was being held for Shulkin in Copenhagen, according to the report.

"Shulkin did not receive an award or special recognition during this Europe trip," the report noted.

IG investigators said that they referred Wright Simpson's conduct to the Justice Department for consideration "for potential criminal prosecution." But the Justice Department declined to prosecute the case.

The report also found that Shulkin "improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets" on July 15 from a woman named Victoria Gosling, whom he described as a friend of his wife. However, during a phone interview with Gosling by investigators, she was unable to recall the first name of Shulkin's wife.

Gosling holds a variety of professional positions, including CEO of the 2016 Invictus Games in Florida.

A representative for the Sage Foundation, where Gosling serves as a director, declined CNBC's request for comment.

Ethics rules bar government officials from receiving gifts that are given because of their position, the report noted. However, gifts can be accepted if they are given as a result of a family relationship or friendship.

Click to show more