August 10, 2018
Even before Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, previously an undersecretary at the Pentagon, was sworn in on July 30, he discovered what his predecessor, David Shulkin, already had known and publicly alleged, according to an August 8 report by The Week: The real power at the Department of Veteran Affairs— an agency that provides near-comprehensive healthcare services to eligible military veterans at VA medical centers and outpatient clinics nationwide—actually resides with civilians who have never served in the military.
The new “powers that be” who dictate VA policies and programs are a trio of titans— CEO of Marvel Entertainment Ike Perlmutter, Palm Beach doctor Bruce Moskovitz, and lawyer Marc Sherman—all of whom frequent the president’s Palm Beach private club and resort, Mar-a-Lago, and are friends and confidantes of Trump..
Indeed, according to a report by Isaac Arnsdorf of ProPublica on August 7, the “Mar-a-Lago Crowd,” as they’re known among VA insiders, has secretly exerted sweeping influence on the VA ever since President Trump approached them for advice in December 2016..
Perlmutter, Moskowitz, and Sherman have pushed the VA to start new programs, some of which could benefit them personally, and essentially have forced out or vetoed jobs for top officials — including Shulkin — who don’t accede to their wishes, Arnsdorf says, basing his report on “hundreds of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with former administration officials.”
Shulkin, Wilkie, and other VA officials have flown down to consult with the triumvirate at Mar-a-Lago, at taxpayer expense. “Everyone has to go down and kiss the ring,” a former administration official told ProPublica.
The three men said through a crisis-communications consultant that they have “offered our help and advice on a voluntary basis” but “did not make or implement any type of policy, possess any authority over agency decisions, or direct government officials to take any actions.” According to emails, VA officials treated the Mar-a-Lago Group’s constant “advice” as orders.
Based on Arnsdorf’s research, “The arrangement is without parallel in modern presidential history. The Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972 provides a mechanism for agencies to consult panels of outside advisers, but such committees are subject to cost controls, public disclosure, and government oversight. Other presidents have relied on unofficial “kitchen cabinets,” but never before have outside advisers been so specifically assigned to one agency.
“During the transition, Trump handed out advisory roles to several rich associates,” Arnsdorf said, “but they’ve all since faded away. The Mar-a-Lago Crowd, however, has deepened its involvement in the VA.”
Research contact: Isaac.Arnsdrof@propublica.org