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Overnight Defense: VA chief under scrutiny over travel expenses | Mulvaney says military parade could cost $30M | Top admiral says North Korea aiming to reunify peninsula

Overnight Defense: VA chief under scrutiny over travel expenses | Mulvaney says military parade could cost $30M | Top admiral says North Korea aiming to reunify peninsula
© Getty Images

THE TOPLINE: Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinShulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA Overnight Energy: Dems ask Pruitt to justify first-class travel | Obama EPA chief says reg rollback won't stand | Ex-adviser expects Trump to eventually rejoin Paris accord Overnight Defense: First Gitmo transfer under Trump could happen 'soon' | White House says Trump has confidence in VA chief | Russia concedes 'dozens' of civilians injured in Syria clash MORE is in hot water after a scathing inspector general report released Wednesday about a trip to Europe he took last year.

Among the findings: his chief of staff changed the text of an email in order to get approval to use taxpayer funding to pay for Shulkin's wife's flights.

The report also knocked Shulkin for attending a Wimbledon tennis match with tickets given to him by Victoria Gosling, an adviser for the Invictus Games. Shulkin had described her as a personal friend, but the inspector general said they only met three times before in official settings.

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Other IG findings: Shulkin misused a subordinate's official time. Also, the VA did not keep sufficient documentation to assess the accuracy and appropriateness of the trip and the department made misleading comments to the media after the travel became public.

Read more about the report here.

 

SHULKIN'S RESPONSE: Shulkin's lawyers sent the inspector general a 16-page rebuttal that was included in the report, saying the report "ignores critical facts, presenting a one-sided version of events that casts aside evidence contradicting your chosen narrative."

Shulkin himself also sent a letter to the IG in which he said the report "draws conclusions based on subjective and arbitrary criteria."

"It is outrageous that you would portray my wife and me as attempting to take advantage of the government," Shulkin wrote.

Later Wednesday, though, Shulkin told USA Today that he's already repaid the $4,312 cost of his wife's travel.

He told the newspaper "there was never anything intentional" to covering up the expenses.

"We act with the highest ethical character," Shulkin said. "I relied upon my staff to do this, and in retrospect, I wish that I had asked more questions."

"I believe that I relied upon the processes that are there, you know what every Cabinet secretary has to rely upon their staff to do this work," he also said. "And in retrospect I wish that I had asked more questions."

Read more here.

 

PACIFIC COMMANDER TESTIFIES: Over in the House Armed Services Committee, Pacific Command chief Adm. Harry Harris, who was recently nominated to be U.S. ambassador to Australia when he retires from the military, was testifying about an array of security concerns in his region of responsibility.

As expected, North Korea was a top concern of lawmakers, who peppered Harris with questions on the rogue state.

One point Harris raised was that he believes North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's objective with his nuclear weapons program is the unification of the Korean peninsula, rather than the "prevailing" view that Kim's motivation is to maintain power.

"I do think that there is a prevailing view that [Kim Jong Un] is doing the things that he's doing to safeguard his regime; I don't ascribe to that view," Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee. "I do think that he is after reunification under a single communist system."

Harris was responding to a question from committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryWeek ahead: Pentagon turns focus to missile defense Pentagon budget euphoria could be short-lived Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (R-Texas) about whether people choose to believe Kim's motivation is the survival of his government because the "alternatives are too terrible to contemplate."

Read more on that here.

 

Other headlines from Harris:

-- Top admiral: US must bolster missile defense to counter North Korea

-- Pacific Command chief: 'Fair' to criticize Olympic coverage of North Korea

 

PARADE COULD COST UP TO $30M: The military parade President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE wants could cost $10 million to $30 million, the White House budget director told lawmakers Wednesday.

The Hill's Avery Anapol has more:

Budget director Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyPoll: Majority disapproves of Trump's military parade plan Mulvaney travels to Middle East: report Pentagon concerns mounting about Trump’s proposed parade: report MORE told the House Budget Committee after questioning from Democratic Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeDem lawmakers attend 'Black Panther' screenings on opening weekend Overnight Defense: VA chief under scrutiny over travel expenses | Mulvaney says military parade could cost M | Top admiral says North Korea aiming to reunify peninsula Mulvaney says Trump's military parade could cost as much as million MORE (Calif.) that the cost would depend on the length of the parade and the cost of the equipment.

"I've seen various different cost estimates of between $10 million and $30 million depending on the size of the parade, the scope of it, the length of it, those kind of things," Mulvaney said.

The cost of a possible parade isn't included in the fiscal 2019 budget plan, so Mulvaney said the White House would have to work with Congress on the funding if "we decide to push forward with that initiative."

"We'd have to appropriate funds for it; we'd have to find funds for it," he said.

Read more here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:

VA Secretary David Shulkin testifies before the House Veterans Affairs Committee at 8 a.m. at the Cannon House Office Building, room 334. http://bit.ly/2BZEWFi

Northern Command commander Gen. Lori Robinson and Southern Command commander Gen. Kurt Tidd will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. http://bit.ly/2GYFKcJ

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for the nominees to be under secretary of State for arms control and international security, assistant secretary of State of East Asian and Pacific affairs, and assistant secretary of State for energy resources at 10 a.m. at Dirksen 419. http://bit.ly/2G0yprR

The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on strategic competition with China with testimony from outside experts at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. http://bit.ly/2EbwiF5

A House Armed Services subcommittee will hear from Special Operations commander Gen. Raymond Thomas and assistant secretary of Defense for special operations Owen West at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2212. http://bit.ly/2BifXMb

 

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: Corker lifts hold on arms sales to Gulf countries despite continuing Qatar crisis

-- The Hill: Three Navy leaders fired after officer found drunk, naked in woods: report

-- The Hill: Opinion: Special envoy can help navigate murky waters on North Korea

-- Reuters: U.S. tells NATO allies spending plans still falling short

-- Associated Press: Reports of Russian deaths underscore dangers of Syria's war

 

Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Kheel, rkheel@thehill.com, and Ellen Mitchell, emitchell@thehill.com.

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