Three members of President Donald Trump’s golf resort Mar-a-Lago are quietly and effectively running the Department of Veterans Affairs, exerting influence over the programs it heads and individuals who staff it — all the way up to the VA secretary.
According to a bombshell ProPublica report published Tuesday, Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, Palm Beach doctor Bruce Moskowitz and lawyer Marc Sherman – none of whom are U.S. military veterans or government officials — have daily contact with VA officials and have hand selected a staff and VA secretary amenable to their desires.
Within the department, they are known as the “Mar-a-Lago Crowd.”
Under the Freedom of Information Act, ProPublica unearthed hundreds of documents showing the immense influence the three wield over the department, expecting taxpayer-funded trips by officials to Mar-a-Lago with Perlmutter’s underlying cudgel of having the ear of the President should anything not go their way.
As an example of their power, ProPublica obtained an email sent to then-VA Secretary nominee David Shulkin in February 2017 a few days after Shulkin flew to Mar-a-Lago to meet the triumvirate. Perlmutter had been the one to recommend Shulkin to Trump initially.
“We do not need to meet in person monthly, but meet face to face only when necessary,” Moskowitz wrote. “We will set up phone conference calls at a convenient time.”
“I know how busy all of you are and having you be there in person, and so present, was truly a gift,” Shulkin responded. “I found the time we spent, the focus that came out of our discussions, and the time we had with the President very meaningful.”
It wasn’t long before the trinity soured on Shulkin though, as they continually showed off their blundering misunderstanding of governmental proceedings and the department itself.
A preemptive congratulations provoked this response: “Bruce—this was not the confirmation vote—it was a committee vote—we still need a floor vote,” Shulkin wrote to Moskowitz.
In another instance highlighting the three men’s tendency to overwhelm VA officials with outlandish requests and demands, Perlmutter forwarded an email to Shulkin describing a story of a veteran who was experiencing issues obtaining his medical records.
“I know we are making very good progress, but this is an excellent reminder that we are also still very far away from achieving our goals,” Perlmutter wrote.
Shulkin was forced to respond that military records fall under the purview of the Department of Defense, not the VA.
As Shulkin continued to clash with the Mar-a-Lago group over issues like privatization and his reluctance to prioritize some of their pet programs, the three planned to execute his ouster along with other staffers they felt were resistant to their regime.
After meeting Robert Wilkie, the interim secretary who filled in post-Shulkin and pre-Ronny Jackson’s disastrous failed confirmation, on his “kiss the ring” trip to Mar-a-Lago, the troika gushed.
“For the first time in 1½ years we feel everyone is on the same page. Everybody ‘gets it,’” Perlmutter said in an email. “Again, please know we are available and want to help any possible way 24/7.”
Moskowitz told Wilkie that he “astounded all of us on how quickly and accurately you assessed the key problems and more importantly the solutions that will be needed to finally move the VA in the right direction.”
Wilkie was sworn in as Secretary of the VA on June 30.
Read ProPublica’s report here.