Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Thursday he would pay back the U.S. government costs related to a trip to Europe for his wife, but will not resign following a critical internal-watchdog report.
Shulkin was the subject of the recent internal investigation that revealed he owed the government more than $4,000 for his wife’s trip to Copenhagen and London.
The investigation claimed to have found Shulkin’s top aide, Vivieca Wright Simpson, doctoring emails to say her boss was getting “special recognition” in Denmark as a way to justify his wife’s taxpayer-funded travel.
"The investigation revealed serious derelictions" by Shulkin and his staff, according to the report, which cited "poor judgment and/or misconduct." The report advised Shulkin to pay back $4,312 to the government.
Shulkin told reporters Thursday that he will follow the advice of the report and pay back any costs associated with his wife’s trip, including making a contribution to U.S. treasure equal to the cost of tickets to the prestigious Wimbledon Tennis tournament, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“Everybody is concerned,” Shulkin said after appearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. “Everybody knows how much work we have to do in the VA. We have to continue the progress.”
He added that he has spoken to President Donald Trump about the report’s findings and will meet White House officials to discuss the contents of the revelations.
In a testimony in Congress, Shulkin insisted the trip to Europe was necessary but the “optics of this were not good.”
Republican Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, a member of the committee, scoffed at the explanation, saying “It’s not the optics that are not good.”
Coffman was among the leading voices calling for Shulkin’s ouster from his position. “It's exactly corruption and abuses like this that doesn't help our veterans,” the lawmaker tweeted earlier this week, adding that Shulkin “must resign now.”
This is not the first time an official in the Trump administration came under fire for unauthorized taxpayer-funded trips. Former health secretary Tom Price was forced to resign in September after questions over his use of private jets for government trips.
The total cost of the 10-day trip in July last year was at least $122,000, the report found. Shulkin reportedly attended meetings in London and Copenhagen concerning veterans’ issues.
But the overseas trip also included “significant personal time for sightseeing and other unofficial activities” at taxpayers’ expense, including a tour of Westminster Abbey, a cruise on the Thames River, and attending the women’s final at Wimbledon tennis tournament with American Venus Williams.
Shulkin defended his wife’s presence on his work trip, telling the committee that he and his staff followed all the processes. “Everything was done properly, but I regret any of this is a distraction from what we should be doing and that’s the reason I’m following the inspector general’s recommendations.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.