A liberal veterans' advocacy organization is suing the VA to prevent a trio of Mar-a-Lago members from exerting further influence on the agency.
VoteVets and Democracy Forward filed suit (PDF) in a District of Columbia federal court to block the three “shadow rulers” from continuing to weigh in on Department of Veterans Affairs issues. The groups argued that their continued presence violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which regulates the role outside advisers can play in government.
The law, which was enacted post-Watergate, requires federal agencies to notify the public when they consult with outside advisors.
An investigation published earlier this month by ProPublica alleged that the three men—Ike Perlmutter, chairman of Marvel Entertainment; Marc Sherman, a lawyer; and Bruce Moskowitz, M.D., a Palm Beach physician—have played a role in many projects at the VA, including the selection of a secretary.
Perlmutter, Sherman and Moskowitz were involved in both selecting and firing David Shulkin, M.D., and were among the first people to meet with current secretary Robert Wilkie after he was named to the post on an interim basis, according to ProPublica.
In a joint statement, the men said they did not intervene directly in any decisions but merely offered their thoughts on a voluntary basis. A White House spokesperson told ProPublica that they had no direct influence at the agency.
And since the original ProPublica investigation has gone live, the men issued a statement to the outlet saying they were concerned media outlets “have misrepresented our actions and used selective emails to paint a distorted picture of our efforts to help the VA and America’s veterans.”
Based on ProPublica’s reporting, however, trio has been able to exert “sweeping, unlawful influence” over the agency, VoteVets said in a statement.
“The health and safety of America’s veterans isn’t a game for President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago members to play with between rounds of golf,” Will Fischer, the group’s director of government relations, said.
“It’s not just insulting that veterans were forced to sue the Trump administration to have a voice in its veterans policies, it’s dangerous, because we don’t know what other private interests may be affecting life and death decisions of veterans, under the shroud of darkness,” Fischer added.
VoteVets is not the first group to call for investigation into the role Perlmutter, Sherman and Moskowitz play at the VA. Democrats on the House Veterans Affairs Committee have called for the agency to release documents related to any conversations the men with staffers as well as records or minutes from meetings and calls they made have participated in.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, have called on the VA Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office to investigate the matter. In a statement, the senators said the allegations “paint a disturbing picture of corruption and cronyism.”
"Membership in President Trump's private club, alone, is not sufficient to have an informed opinion on the best way to deliver care and benefits to our nation's veterans," the senators said. "And membership in President Trump's private club should not give any individual the right to exert influence on decisions made by the VA that impact the over nine million veterans under its care."