Lawyers for VA secretary offer 'robust' response to forthcoming IG report on travel

Lawyers representing Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin say they have submitted a "robust response" to the find...

Posted: Feb 13, 2018 9:11 AM
Updated: Feb 13, 2018 9:11 AM

Lawyers representing Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin say they have submitted a "robust response" to the findings of a review of Shulkin's European business trip last summer and that Shulkin "has not done anything improper."

The VA's inspector general has been reviewing Shulkin's July business trip to London and Denmark, which included meetings with Danish and UK officials as well as a stop at Wimbledon. The findings of that review have not been made public, but USA Today reported Monday that Shulkin's legal team had drafted a point-by-point rebuttal of the findings and that the report was scheduled to be released sometime this week.

"Secretary Shulkin has not done anything improper," Shulkin's lawyers, Justin Shur, Eric Nitz and Emily Damrau, said in a statement to CNN. "We have submitted a robust response to the allegations in the IG report, and we will make that response public after the IG has published its final report."

VA Secretary David Shulkin under review for work trip to Europe

Shulkin's lawyers, according to USA Today, criticize the IG report in their rebuttal as incomplete and unfair, an indication that the findings are not in the secretary's favor.

"The draft report ignores critical facts, presenting a one-sided version of events that casts aside evidence contradicting your chosen narrative," the lawyers wrote in the rebuttal, according to USA Today.

Also in the rebuttal, according to USA Today, Shulkin's lawyers argued that the European trip was "immensely valuable" to Shulkin's work at the VA and it is "beyond obvious" that it was essential travel. Any suggestion otherwise, the lawyers reportedly said, demonstrates "a fundamental lack of understanding of the Secretary's work and the VA's mission."

The VA's inspector general opened an investigation last fall into Shulkin's taxpayer-funded trip to Europe. The Washington Post first reported news of the trip.

Following the report, the Veterans Affairs Department posted the itinerary online, which showed that Shulkin had traveled with his wife and three VA staffers, one of whom also took along a spouse. The US government paid the travel expenses and a per diem for Shulkin's wife, Merle Bari, the Post reported.

In the rebuttal, according to USA Today, Shulkin's lawyers argue that the secretary and his wife had planned to pay for her travel themselves.

"In fact, Secretary Shulkin and Dr. Bari were prepared to pay for Dr. Bari's travel as they always had done previously," the lawyers reportedly 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."

A spokesman for the VA inspector general did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment.

Shulkin is the fifth member of the Trump administration to be investigated over travel practices, a list that includes EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Tom Price, the former Health and Human Services secretary who resigned under scrutiny last year for his use of chartered planes for business purposes.

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