WASHINGTON — Department of Veterans Affairs investigators are poised to claim Secretary David Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets and used taxpayers’ money to pay his wife’s airfare during a European trip last summer — findings Shulkin’s lawyers are blasting as questionable and unfair.
The report by the VA inspector general is scheduled to be released sometime this week, but some of its key findings can be inferred from a point-by-point rebuttal drafted by Shulkin’s lawyers and obtained by USA TODAY.
The impending report is expected to criticize Shulkin for taking a possibly unnecessary trip and using a VA employee to arrange his leisure time.
Shulkin’s lawyers criticize the impending report as unfair and inaccurate and suggest the inspector general’s investigation was biased against Shulkin from the start.
“The draft report ignores critical facts, presenting a one-sided version of events that casts aside evidence contradicting your chosen narrative,” the lawyers, Justin Shur, Eric Nitz, and Emily Damrau, wrote.
The VA inspector general’s office declined to comment late Monday.
Shulkin took the 10-day trip with his wife and other staff last July to attend meetings with health care officials in Denmark and a summit on veterans’ issues in London.
VA Inspector General Michael Missal began investigating the excursion in October after The Washington Post reported the couple spent nearly half of the trip sightseeing. Among the findings, as inferred from Shulkin’s lawyers’ rebuttal:
• That the trip may not have qualified as “essential travel” under a cost-saving directive Shulkin himself issued to VA leaders just weeks before his trip.
• His wife’s airfare should not have been paid for by the VA or approved by ethics officials at the agency and the amount of leisure time during the trip was a questionable use of taxpayer dollars.
• The couple’s acceptance of tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament may have been improper and the person who provided the tickets was not a personal friend as ethics officials who approved the gift had been told.
• He improperly directed VA staff on official time to arrange personal sightseeing activities.
In the eight-page rebuttal, Shulkin’s lawyers maintain the report “improperly applies the relevant regulations, at times mischaracterizing them.”