A team of House and Senate Democrats launched an investigation into cronyism at the Department of Veterans Affairs after a ProPublica report found that three friends of President Donald Trump are influencing policy and personnel decisions at the agency.
Led by Sen. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minnesota, the Democrats blasted the influence of a group sometimes known as the “Mar-a-Lago” trio. The three men are “not accountable to veterans or taxpayers, and none of whom have served in the U.S. military or government.”
Yet these men are helping shape crucial decisions without Senate confirmation or a presidential nomination, explained Walz in a statement.
According to the report, Ike Perlmutter, Marvel Entertainment CEO, Bruce Moskowitz, an internal medicine specialist, and Marc Sherman, an attorney, are the “shadow rulers of the VA.” They speak with VA officials on a daily basis despite having no healthcare experience or VA connection.
The trio reportedly has reviewed a wide range of policy and personnel decisions, “prodded the VA to start new programs” and required VA leadership to meet with the group with travel paid for by taxpayers. Those who disagreed with the group lost their jobs or were passed over for promotions.
The report also claimed the group profited from their influence. While the men have repeatedly denied these claims, according to a statement from Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minnesota, “reports and actions taken by these individuals and VA leaders appear to contradict this statement.”
Indeed, ousted VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, alluded to the trio in his New York Times Op-Ed after he was fired by Trump in March, blasting those in and outside the agency for “putting their personal agendas in front of the well-being of our veterans.”
In fact, a Politico report from the spring said it was Moskowitz that held up the Cerner contract, as he’d used the platform and didn’t like it. The trio reportedly pressured Shulkin to perform further vetting and not sign the contract.
Current VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has only been in the position for a few weeks and said he won’t privatize the VA and will fight against it. Wilkie signed the Cerner contract in June, nearly a year after Shulkin announced the plan to switch EHRs.
Walz requested Wilkie provide unredacted copies of any and all documents, records and correspondence including text messages between the trio and any current or former VA employees including Shulkin and former acting VA Secretary Peter O’Rourke.
Wilkie was given an August 31 deadline to provide the documentation, which will also include any and all travel of VA employees to Mar-A-Lago in Florida where the meetings reportedly took place.
“Veterans and military families were shocked and outraged to hear that the VA is being run by three Trump cronies with no U.S. military experience and whose only qualification seem to be that they are dues-paying members of Mar-a-Lago,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“The poisonous Trump culture of corruption, cronyism and incompetence is finally coming to light at VA, threatening the health and futures of millions of veterans, caregivers and their families,” she added. “The VA is an indispensable and cherished guardian of our veterans’ healthcare and benefits, not a second branch of Mar-a-Lago.”