Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Wednesday joined a growing list of Trump administration official to become embroiled in an ethics scandal, after an internal investigation found he improperly accepted tickets to a major tennis event and used government funds on a trip to Europe.
There are now six current or former Trump cabinet members tangled up in ethics controversies over their use of government resources. Here’s a rundown of each.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin
David Shulkin waves to a reporter after meeting in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York. Photo by REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton.
The report on Shulkin, put out by the agency’s Inspector General, found that he violated department policy by accepting Wimbledon tickets and using government funds on a European trip he took with his wife last year.
The IG report also said Shulkin’s chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, altered the letter which served as the pretext for Shulkin’s 10-day European trip.
According to the report, the letter was changed to appear as though Shulkin was traveling to receive an award on behalf of the Danish government. In September, the Washington Post first reported on the alleged misuse of government money on the trip. While the trip did include official business, an itinerary from the trip revealed Shulkin and his wife “spent about half their time sightseeing, including shopping and touring historic sites,” the Post reported.
Following the report’s release Wednesday, the top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate and House Veterans Affairs committees put out statement calling the allegations “unacceptable.” Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., himself a veteran, called for Shulkin’s resignation.
“The report is not accurate, not objective,” Shulkin said in an interview with the New York Times. “I was horrified when I saw the way the investigator conducted himself, leading the witness with his own interpretation and the bias.”
Shulkin told the Army Times he’s “already written a check to the Treasury,” adding: “In retrospect, I wish I had asked additional questions of my staff.”
The report will likely come up at a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Thursday.
Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. File Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters
According to a September report from ABC, Mnuchin requested a government plane to fly to his honeymoon in Scotland, France and Italy last year. Treasury Department officials deemed the use unnecessary. ABC reported that it can cost nearly $25,000 an hour to operate a government plane.
Last August, Mnuchin and his wife also used a government plane to fly to Fort Knox, Kentucky for an official government event, which coincided with a solar eclipse. Fort Knox was one of the ideal locations for viewing the eclipse. Mnuchin denied any wrongdoing, but the Treasury Department Inspector General is reviewing the Kentucky trip.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry
Rick Perry exits after meeting with Donald Trump at Trump Tower. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been criticized for several charter flights he’s taken since joining the Trump administration, which in all have cost $56,000 in taxpayer money, according to the Department of Energy.
One of them, to a department event in Kansas City, cost as much as $35,000, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Perry, formerly the longest serving governor in Texas history, has said he often travels to locations where commercial flights are not possible. He told a House energy subcommittee in October that he travels in “a way I think is thoughtful, with the taxpayers in mind.”
The Energy Department’s inspector general is investigating the claims, according to USA Today.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt answers a question during the 2017 Concordia Summit in Manhattan, New York. Photo by Jeenah Moon/Reuters
Both ABC and more recently the Washington Post have reported on Pruitt’s inclination to opt for expensive airfare. Last September, ABC reported that Pruitt took four flights between June 7 and Aug. 9 of last year, costing taxpayers $58,000.
A recent report from the Washington Post also detailed several domestic and international flights Pruitt took last summer that cost hundreds of thousands in taxpayer money. Over a span of a week-and-a-half last June, the Environmental Protection Agency chief spent $90,000 on flights — all paid for by the government. Part of the expense comes from Pruitt’s tendency to fly first class when taking commercial flights. Last August, the EPA Inspector General announced a probe into Pruitt’s June travels to and from Oklahoma.
On Wednesday, Pruitt told a New Hampshire newspaper that the decision to fly first class is made by his security detail, adding: “We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment.”
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks at the Interior Department in Washington, D.C. File photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
A flight Zinke took from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana last year cost taxpayers $12,375, according to a September report from the Washington Post. Zinke traveled with oil and gas executives on the chartered flight, one of many detailed in the Post report.
For example, Zinke and Interior officials traveled on private flights last March to the Caribbean, island hopping from St. Thomas and St. Croix to the Virgin Islands to tour the Buck Island Reef National Monument. An Interior spokeswoman told the Post that at the time of the trip there were no commercial flights available. Though his travel drew criticism, Zinke is not under investigation.
Former HHS Secretary Tom Price
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price attends a June listening session on Healthcare reform at the White House in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Carlos Barria – RTS1834D
Before resigning last year, Price spent more than $1 million in taxpayer money on domestic and international flights, including nearly two dozen domestic flights between May and September. In addition, Price used White House-approved military jets for international travel to Europe, Africa and Asia. In total, Price took 24 private flights between May and September 2017, according to Politico, which also noted that former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius did not once take a military plane in her five years running the agency.
Facing criticism from Congress and the White House, Price resigned in September and promised to pay back $52,000, covering the costs of his domestic flights on private jets. HHS spokeswoman Charmaine Yoest told Politico that he had also reimbursed the cost of his wife’s overseas travel aboard the military planes.
PBS NewsHour digital news editor Erica R. Hendry reported for this story.
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