Veterans Affairs watchdog discovers massive ethics violations, misuse of taxpayer funds by Secretary David Shulkin
The scandal around Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin's European travel is growing, with The Washington Post reporting the VA chief of staff "doctored an email and made false statements" in order to use taxpayer money to cover the overseas expenses of Shulkin's wife.
On Tuesday, USA Today reported that the VA inspector general was investigating Shulkin's trip to Denmark and London last July, which appeared to be unnecessarily long, at 10 days, and used taxpayer money to pay for Merle Bari to travel with her husband. Additionally, the couple reportedly spent half the trip sightseeing, ventures Shulkin allegedly improperly directed his staff to arrange.
The inspector general found that the VA chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, changed the language in an email "to make it appear that Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government — then used the award to justify paying for his wife's travel," The Washington Post reports. Bari's airfare ran more than $4,300 and the inspector general's office claimed that the three and a half days of meetings in Copenhagen and London totaled at least $122,334.
Bari herself reportedly made requests directly to a VA aide, including emails like: "Is there earlier flight from Copenhagen? Wimbledon tickets? High tea? Roman baths in [B]ath. Would want to do baths not just tour."
Shulkin is an Obama administration holdover, having formerly served as the undersecretary for health at the VA. Shulkin has also been accused of improperly accepting tickets for him and his wife to attend Wimbledon on the same trip, although he falsely claimed he bought them himself during a Washington Post Live event last year.
Shulkin dismissed the allegations against him in a statement: "It is outrageous that you would portray my wife and me as attempting to take advantage of the government," he said. Read more of the details about the trip at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange
The 2018 Winter Olympics came to a close Sunday night in South Korea, with the Olympic flame extinguished and the torch passed to Beijing, the host of the 2022 Winter Games.
While athletes are divided by country in the opening ceremony, the Olympians all marched into the stadium together during the closing ceremony, and Lee Hee-beom, the Pyeongchang Olympics organizing committee president, said he believed that South and North Korean athletes marching side by side "will definitely serve as a cornerstone of the unification of the Korean Peninsula."
The ceremony included performances by K-pop singers and Oh Yeon-joon, the 11-year-old winner of South Korea's version of The Voice, drones that lit the sky up in the shape of Soohorang, the tiger mascot of the 2018 Winter Games, and skating panda bears, a nod to the upcoming Beijing Olympics. For those who don't want to wait until 2022 for those Winter Games, the Tokyo Summer Games are just two years away. Catherine Garcia
Michelle Obama will release her memoir, Becoming, on November 13, the former first lady announced Sunday.
In a statement, Obama said writing the book "has been a deeply personal experience. It has allowed me, for the very first time, the space to honestly reflect on the unexpected trajectory of my life." The book will cover everything from her childhood in Chicago's South Side to her time at the White House, and will be published in two dozen languages. Obama will also narrate the audio version of Becoming, and is expected to go on a publicity tour in the U.S. and abroad. Catherine Garcia
Despite the U.N. Security Council unanimously passing a cease-fire resolution Saturday, Syrian government forces continued air strikes in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area outside Damascus, killing at least 22 people on Sunday.
Since this offensive began seven days ago, more than 500 people have been killed in the violence. Doctors in the area said one of the bombs that was dropped contained chlorine, and one child was killed when this bomb caused them to suffocate. Panos Moumtzis, U.N. regional coordinator for Syria, said he was "very, very disappointed" by the violence, but thinks there is a still a chance an agreement could be made to bring food and medicine into the area. An estimated 350,000 civilians remain in Eastern Ghouta.
In order to get Russia, a Syrian ally, on board with the cease-fire, the resolution had to exclude "terrorists," The Washington Post reports, and because the Syrian government often refers to all of its opponents as "terrorists," this could be the military's justification for its continued air strikes. This was bolstered by an Iranian military official, who said Iran and Syria will abide by the resolution, but Eastern Ghouta is "under terrorists' control." Catherine Garcia
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was first elected to the Senate in 1992 and plans to make 2018 her final campaign. But if the activists at the California Democratic Party's convention this weekend have their say, she won't run again at all.
In vote results released Sunday, just 37 percent of delegates backed Feinstein, while 54 percent supported her primary challenger, State Sen. Kevin de León. Party rules require 60 percent support for an endorsement, but the underdog de León promptly cast the vote as "an astounding rejection of politics as usual [which] boosts our campaign's momentum as we all stand shoulder-to-shoulder against a complacent status quo."
When her speech ran long at the convention Saturday and music began to play her off the stage, Feinstein commented, "I guess my time is up." Her rival's delegates immediately made the aside into a political chant, shouting, "Your time is up! Your time is up!" as she left the podium.
In the broader race, however, Feinstein's name recognition and deep coffers put her well ahead of her opponent. A recent survey saw her leading with 46 percent to de León's 17 percent. Bonnie Kristian
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) on Sunday posited the United States may soon develop a multi-party system because the Democratic and Republican parties are not satisfying voters.
"We may be beginning to see the end of the two-party system," he mused in an interview on ABC's This Week. "I'm starting to really wonder if we're going to see a multi-party system at some point in the future in this country. Because I don't think either party is answering people's deepest concerns and needs."
Kasich appeared with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), with whom, as host George Stephanopoulos noted, some speculate he may try to form a unity ticket to challenge President Trump in 2020. Neither governor would say whether he intends to mount a presidential campaign, and Kasich offered mixed messaging on where his partisan loyalties would be should he choose to run. He said the GOP is "is [his] vehicle, not [his] master," but demurred at the ideas of endorsing Hickenlooper as a Democratic nominee or running as an independent himself.
Conservative author Mona Charen got booed at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday because of comments she made about the #MeToo movement, the Republican Party, and President Trump.
"I am disappointed in people on our side for being hypocrites about sexual harassers and abusers of women who are in our party, who are sitting in the White House, who brag about their extramarital affairs, who brag about mistreating women," Charen said, referencing Trump and the Access Hollywood tape. "This is a party that endorsed Roy Moore for the Senate in the state of Alabama even though he was a credibly accused child molester," she continued. "You cannot claim that you stand for women and put up with that."
Writing in The New York Times Sunday, Charen stood by her critique of the GOP as a lifelong conservative. "There is nothing more freeing than telling the truth," she wrote. "And it must be done, again and again, by those of us who refuse to be absorbed into this brainless, sinister, clownish thing called Trumpism, by those of us who refuse to overlook the fools, frauds, and fascists attempting to glide along in his slipstream into respectability."
Watch an excerpt of the CPAC panel below, and read the whole New York Times op-ed here. Bonnie Kristian
— Scout (@about_scout) February 24, 2018
Broward sheriff refuses to resign, claims 'amazing leadership' despite shooting response allegations
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said Sunday on CNN's State of the Union that he will not resign despite allegations that multiple deputies under his command did not enter Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, "when they should have" during the Valentine's Day mass shooting.
Israel previously said one deputy assigned to the school was suspended without pay and then resigned because he never entered the school to protect students or confront the shooter. Now the Coral Springs Police Department has accused other deputies of delaying their entry.
"Deputies make mistakes, police officers make mistakes, we all make mistakes," Israel argued. "But it's not the responsibility of the general or the president if you have a deserter."
Israel also addressed the warnings his department received about the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, before the attack. "I can only take responsibility for what I knew about," the sheriff told host Jake Tapper Sunday. "I exercised my due diligence. I provided amazing leadership to this agency." Tapper was unconvinced, countering that "you measure somebody's leadership by the way they protect the community" and suggesting Israel failed to protect Parkland.
Watch the full interview below. Bonnie Kristian
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) February 25, 2018