VA secretary's chief of staff leaving amid travel scandal

The embattled chief of staff for Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinOvernight Defense: GOP plays hardball by attaching defense funding to CR | US reportedly drawing down in Iraq | Russia, US meet arms treaty deadline | Why the military wants 6B from Congress Agriculture chief Sonny Perdue is ‘designated survivor’ for Trump’s State of the Union VA has a tendency to manipulate science for its own benefit, not the veterans MORE is retiring amid controversy over her role in Shulkin’s overseas travel and allegations her email was hacked by people looking to undermine the secretary.

Shulkin told the Military Times on Friday that Vivieca Wright Simpson “called me this morning and told me she doesn’t want to be in this environment anymore.”

The VA later released a statement saying she “elected to retire” and that it “has opened a formal investigation into her actions identified in the [inspector general] report.”

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTillerson: Russia already looking to interfere in 2018 midterms Dems pick up deep-red legislative seat in Missouri Speier on Trump’s desire for military parade: ‘We have a Napoleon in the making’ MORE has made clear that he expects VA leaders to hold themselves and other employees accountable when they fail to live up to the high standards taxpayers and Veterans deserve,” VA press secretary Curt Cashour said in the statement. “VA will continue to review the IG report and its recommendations in more detail before determining possible additional personnel accountability actions.”

Wright Simpson was at the center of a damning allegation in an inspector general report released Wednesday about a trip Shulkin took to Europe last year.

The report charges that Wright Simpson altered an email to make it appear Shulkin was getting an award during the trip in order to gain approval to use taxpayer dollars to pay for Shulkin’s wife to accompany him.

Shulkin has defended Wright Simpson, saying she showed him evidence backing up her denial that she sent the email in question.

Shulkin has suggested the email was sent by hackers looking to undermine him. On Thursday, he told reporters that “we know” someone took over Wright Simpson’s email.

“We’ve seen that somebody is impersonating her, and we have to fully investigate that to make sure that we follow the processes,” he said.

Asked whether the doctored email was among those that were sent in her name, Shulkin said that he’s “not a forensics expert.”

“That’s one of things we’re looking at,” he said. “But we have found that there are people sending emails from her account that aren’t her. That’s concerning to us.”

In an interview with The New York Times, Shulkin, the only Trump Cabinet member to have also served in the Obama administration, added that political appointees in the department are working to undermine him.

“If there are people here who don’t want the VA to succeed, I want them out,” he told the Times.

On Friday, the VA said it has also opened a formal investigation into the hacking allegations.

“To be clear, while VA is still currently investigating these hacking allegations, we have thus far found no credible or conclusive evidence of a compromise to our email system or a user’s account,” Cashour added in the statement.

Despite his issues with the inspector general report, Shulkin has said he’s repaid his wife’s travel and will follow the rest of the inspector general’s recommendations as well.

He told Military Times that Wright Simpson’s resignation does not change his plans to review the actions of all staffers involved in the scandal.

“I’ve publicly said we are going to go along with all of the IG recommendations, and this doesn’t change that,” he said. “No Cabinet secretary can run a department unless the entire team is aligned around the president’s agenda. Moving ahead, that’s going to be essential.”

Updated at 4:01 p.m.

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