Top Dem asks Justice to review VA secretary's claim that aide's email was hacked

Top Dem asks Justice to review VA secretary's claim that aide's email was hacked
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee is asking the Justice Department to review the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary’s allegation that a top aide’s email was hacked, resulting in a doctored email at the center of a scandal related to his travel.

On Wednesday, the VA inspector general released a scathing report on a trip Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinPress: Acosta, latest to walk the plank Senior Trump administration official to leave post next week Trump sent policy pitch from Mar-a-Lago member to VA secretary: report MORE took to Europe last year. Among the charges in the report was that Shulkin’s chief of staff changed an email to make it appear Shulkin was going to be honored at a special dinner during the trip in order to gain approval to use taxpayer dollars to pay for Shulkin’s wife’s travel.

In response, Shulkin claimed, first in an interview with Politico and then again to reporters after a committee hearing, that the email account of the aide, Vivieca Wright Simpson, had been hacked.

“These allegations from the VA secretary that the third senior-most official at VA may have been the target of criminals committing fraud and computer intrusion with the intention of harming her reputation, and that these criminal activities took place on VA computers and networks are very serious,” Rep. Tim WalzTimothy (Tim) James WalzOvernight Health Care: CDC warns against using e-cigs after vaping-related deaths | Minnesota reports fourth nationwide death tied to vaping | Top Dem demands FDA chief take action | Marianne Williamson under fire over controversial health remarks Minnesota reports fourth nationwide death tied to vaping Three people shot, one hit by car at Minnesota State Fair MORE (Minn.) wrote in a Thursday letter to Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHouse Democrats seeking Sessions's testimony in impeachment probe McCabe's counsel presses US attorney on whether grand jury decided not to indict US attorney recommends moving forward with charges against McCabe after DOJ rejects his appeal MORE.

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“I refer these claims of email intrusion and tampering on government computers and networks, and whether other cyber crimes have been committed against senior-level VA officials or on VA computers and its network for your review.”

Shulkin 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 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 his letter, Walz cited the Justice Department’s decision not to prosecute Wright Simpson after the inspector general referred the matter of the doctored email to department. He also cited Shulkin’s claim that Wright Simpson provided the secretary with evidence backing up her denial that she sent the altered email.

“Allegedly evidence exists of a ‘spoof’ account mimicking Ms. Simpson’s official email account,” Walz wrote. “Emails from this ‘spoof’ account were allegedly sent to personnel within the agency.”

Walz’s letter follows his statement at the Thursday morning committee hearing that the committee would ask the Justice Department to investigate if Shulkin thinks it’s appropriate.

Both he and Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Phil RoeDavid (Phil) Phillip RoeIf Trump wants to stay popular among veterans he has to do more Want to solve surprise medical bills? Listen to patients House conservative's procedural protest met with bipartisan gripes MORE (R-Tenn.) said they believe Shulkin’s desire to help veterans is clear, but that he needs to address the allegations of the inspector general. 

“Mr. Secretary, I too have gotten the opportunity to know you over many years, and your intentions to help veterans is clear, and the trust you have on this committee is strong,” Walz said. “But we do need to address these allegations.”