×
February 14, 2018

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

8:59 a.m.

MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski apologized on Morning Joe Friday morning for having called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a "wannabe dictator's butt boy."

Brzezinski at the top of the show referenced her "terrible choice of words" two days prior. "The term is crass and offensive and I apologize to everyone, especially the LGBTQ community and to my colleagues for using it," she said, per Mediaite. This was a "mistake," Brzezinski added, saying she will "work hard to be better."

The Morning Joe host had apologized for the remark on Twitter Wednesday morning, saying that it was a "SUPER BAD choice of words" and that she should have said "water boy" instead. Brzezinski was not on Morning Joe the next day, which co-host Joe Scarborough said was because of a pre-planned family event.

President Trump weighed in on the controversy, tweeting that if a conservative made a similar mistake, they would "be banned permanently from television" but that Brzezinski, who he referred to as "crazed," will "probably be given a pass, despite their terrible ratings." Megyn Kelly, a conservative whose NBC show was canceled after she made comments defending wearing blackface on Halloween, said Thursday that Brzezinski should not be fired for her statement, per The Daily Mail. "I hope she's forgiven," Kelly said. Brendan Morrow

8:14 a.m.

Nancy Wilson, a vocalist who is best known for singing jazz but preferred to call herself a "song stylist," died Thursday night after a long illness. She was 81. Wilson, who retired from touring in 2011, died at her home in Pioneertown, California, near Joshua Tree National Park.

Wilson was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1937. She started singing at age 4, began performing professionally after a year of college, and started recording hit records soon after moving to New York City in 1959, The Associated Press reports. Her biggest commercial success was in the 1960s, when she recorded eight albums that hit the Billboard Top 20 pop charts. Her repertoire ranged from torch songs to show tunes and pop standards, but she is most associated with jazz. Wilson won two Grammys for jazz records, in 2005 and 2007, but also a Grammy for best R&B performance in 1965. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded her a "Jazz Masters Fellowship" in 2004, and the NAACP honored her with an Image award in 1998. She also appeared on several TV shows, including Hawaii Five-O and her own eponymous variety show.

Here, Wilson sings "Lush Life," from the 1967 album of the same name.

Wilson, who was married twice and divorced once, is survived by one son, two daughters, two sisters, and five grandchildren. Peter Weber

8:13 a.m.

CBS has been hit with yet another sexual harassment scandal.

The New York Times reports the network in January 2018 secretly reached a $9.5 million settlement with actress Eliza Dushku, who said she was written off of Bull after complaining about being sexually harassed by the show's star, Michael Weatherly.

Weatherly reportedly commented on Dushku's appearance, made a rape joke, and talked about having a threesome. After she confronted Weatherly about this, her character was shortly written off the series, even though there had reportedly been plans for her to join the cast full time. She felt she was written off as punishment for her sexual harassment complaint. Some of this harassment was reportedly captured on tape.

This information came out as part of an investigation at CBS following the sexual misconduct allegations against Les Moonves, the network's former chairman. Dushku didn't comment for the Times' article, but CBS confirmed the settlement was reached, saying that "while we remain committed to a culture defined by a safe, inclusive, and respectful workplace, our work is far from done."

Weatherly told the Times he made jokes on set "mocking some lines in the script" but was "horrified" when he found out Dushku wasn't comfortable with them. "After reflecting on this further, I better understand that what I said was both not funny and not appropriate and I am sorry and regret the pain this caused Eliza," he said. Weatherly, after being confronted by Dushku, had reportedly texted David Stapf, the president of CBS Television Studios, "saying that he wanted to talk about Ms. Dushku's sense of humor." He denies pushing for her to be written off the series. Read more at The New York Times. Brendan Morrow

7:27 a.m.

President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen is speaking out in his first televised interview since being sentenced to three years in prison.

Cohen told ABC News Friday that "of course" Trump knew that making hush money payments to two women, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, was wrong. But Cohen says his boss instructed him to silence the women, who have alleged they had affairs with Trump before he ran for president. Trump denies their allegations. "I knew what I was doing was wrong," Cohen also said.

Referring to Trump's claim that the payments were made without his knowledge, Cohen said, "I don't think there is anybody that believes that ... He directed me to make the payments."

Trump has additionally argued that the payments were not campaign contributions, but Cohen tells ABC that they were specifically made to "help [Trump] and his campaign.”

Cohen regrets giving loyalty to Trump, who "truthfully does not deserve loyalty," he said. When ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked Cohen why people should believe him now when he has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, Cohen responded that prosecutors have a "substantial amount of information that they possessed that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth," adding that he's "done with the lying."

Speaking more about his former boss, Cohen observed that Trump is now a "very different individual" than in the past because the "pressure of the job is much more than what he thought it was going to be." Watch a portion of Cohen's interview with ABC below. Brendan Morrow

6:58 a.m.

There was lots of legal news about President Trump on Thursday. None of it was good.

A day after Michael Cohen was handed jail time for crimes he said he committed on Trump's orders, NBC News placed Trump in the room where apparently illegal campaign finance violations were plotted, The Wall Street Journal said federal prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into Trump's inaugural committee, and The Daily Beast reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was investigating possible Trump campaign collusion with Israel and Saudi Arabia, not just Russia. Maria Butina admitted to being a Russian agent and affirmed she is cooperating with U.S. prosecutors in a case about Russian 2016 campaign meddling.

Publicly, Trump tried to distance himself from Cohen on Thursday, and "in private, Mr. Trump vented about investigators' scrutiny of him and his associates," people familiar with the matter tell The Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, people close to the White House described the president as less consumed this week about the investigations than the media coverage of a contentious meeting he had with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "He was annoyed with how that meeting was playing out," one person close to the White House said. Network shows have repeatedly played clips of Mrs. Pelosi correcting the president on how many votes he has in the House and on his characterization of her. [The Wall Street Journal]

Trump and Pelosi were discussing a looming government shutdown over Trump's demands for $5 billion for a border wall. "With Trump fueling the border wall brinkmanship, everyone in the Capitol has basically stopped talking," Politico reports. "The House and Senate left town Thursday with no strategy to avert a partial government shutdown next week, putting Congress on the brink of an intractable conflict that could drag out through New Year's Day — furloughing hundreds of thousands of workers and costing taxpayers millions." Peter Weber

5:34 a.m.

First lady Melania Trump sat down for an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday night, and Stephen Colbert took it a little personally. "Hannity asked Melania what's her least favorite part about first lady," and her list of the "opportunists" profiting from her name sounded familiar, he said on Thursday's Late Show. "Comedians, journalists, performers, book writers — hey, I'm some of those things. But you left off Grammy-winning audio book narrator and disgraced lifeguard." The first lady also said she will ignore the criticism from the media and do what she thinks is best for the country and be true to herself. "Well certainly there's nothing wrong with trying to stay true to yourself," Colbert said. "It's just like Shakespeare famously said, 'This above all: To thine own self be best.'"

"On Fox News last night, Melania Trump was interviewed by Sean Hannity," Jimmy Fallon said on The Tonight Show. "Trump said it was a lot of fun tuning in to watch the love of his life, and also Melania."

Hannity asked Melania "the moment she and Donald fell in love," Seth Meyers said on Late Night. "Said Melania: I'll let you know. In the same interview, Melania said the hardest part about her role is dealing with opportunists who use her name and her family's name to advance themselves. Said one such opportunist: You're not my real mom!" Meyers joked over a photo of Donald Trump Jr. "Now give me my allowance!"

Coincidentally, a CNN/SSRS poll released Thursday found Melania Trump's favorability rating dropping to 43 percent, from 54 percent in October. She is still widely popular among older white male Republicans and conservatives, the poll found. CNN's Kate Bennett suggested that her recent media appearances, in which she said she felt bullied and aligned herself with her husband and his policies, probably account for her drop in approval among women and younger Americans. Peter Weber

4:02 a.m.

Federal prosecutors in New York City have begun a criminal investigation into whether President Trump's 2017 inaugural committee misspent any of its record $107 million haul and whether any of the committee's biggest donors sought access to or special favors from the incoming Trump administration for their donations, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday evening, citing people familiar with the matter.

The investigation arose partly out of materials seized by the FBI in an April raid of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen's office and residences, the Journal says, and federal prosecutors have sought information from Rick Gates, deputy chairman for both Trump's campaign and inaugural committee, who has pleaded guilty to different crimes and is cooperating with investigators. "Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws," the Journal notes. "Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law."

Trump's $107 million inaugural fund was more than twice the previous record, set in 2009. The inaugural committee has not publicly accounted for how it spent $103 million, though it has identified vendors it paid $61 million and broken out some of the broad spending categories. Thomas Barrack, the real estate developer and longtime Trump friend who chaired the inaugural committee, said the committee's finances were audited by an outside organization, though he has not made that audit public. "There is no sign the investigation is targeting Mr. Barrack," the Journal says. Reporter Rebecca Davis O'Brien, who helped break the story, walked through some of the other details with CNN's Jake Tapper, and you can watch that below and read more at The Wall Street Journal. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads