Three wealthy Donald Trump buddies who were members of his Mar-a-Lago golf resort were allowed by the then-president to order around officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs to serve their own interests, according to documents released Monday as part of a joint congressional investigation.
Marvel Entertainment Chairman Ike Perlmutter, lawyer Marc Sherman and Palm Beach Dr. Bruce Moskowitz were empowered by Trump to interfere in pretty much anything they pleased at the VA as “advisers” as they pursued personal interests, according to information in the 19-month investigation released by the House Oversight and Veterans’ Affairs committees. Trump in 2017 announced they would “straighten out the VA.”
None of the men had any experience in the military or in government.
In once instance, the men discussed a “hugely profitable plan” to monetize the VA patient database, suggesting that Johnson & Johnson, Apple and CVS could profit from access to the VA’s electronic medical records, according to congressional investigators.
They worked with then-VA Secretary David Shulkin to award a consulting contract to the former head of Moskowitz’s nonprofit foundation to explore the idea, the report stated. He said patient data could be “leveraged into hundreds of millions in revenue.” It’s not clear where that project stands now.
The men, “bolstered by their connection to Donald Trump, violated the law and sought to exert improper influence over government officials to further their own personal interests,” said Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who led the investigation.
They accused the men of violating the open government Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires transparency of advisory groups.
The three were involved in hundreds of email exchanges. They often gave orders to officials, even though they were inexperienced, unsupervised and had no official role in the department.
The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) in 2019 obtained more than 300 pages of emails involving the golf resort trio who cavalierly aimed to reshape operations at the department that provides health care for 9 million veterans.
Staff members and officials were often annoyed and frustrated by the triumvirate’s interference, according to the emails. One department physician asked by a VA official to respond to questions from one of the men called the queries “just ridiculous. They don’t make any sense and there is a complete lack of understanding ... I’m just baffled,” the email stated.
The three were particularly interested in a $16 billion technology contract for veterans hospitals and were so ineffectively involved in the process that they were instrumental in significantly delaying it, according to Politico. According to one email obtained by CREW, Moskowitz insisted on being included in “every call” involving VA contracts, according to an email.
The advocacy group VoteVets sued in 2018 to shut down the “Mar-a-Lago Council.” The lawsuit argued that the VA violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act by permitting the men to exercise “sweeping, and yet hidden, influence.”
The case is ongoing. The US. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the case in 2019, saying the group didn’t meet the qualifications for an advisory committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the ruling in March, stating VoteVets laid out “sufficient facts” to continue the case.