The Department of Veterans Affairs won’t give Congress records that could show the undue influence friends of President Donald Trump have over agency policy, MilitaryTimes reports.
A bombshell investigation by ProPublica in August revealed that three close Trump associates — Ike Perlmutter, CEO of Marvel Entertainment; Bruce Moskowitz, who works in concierge medicine; and Marc Sherman, an attorney— have ruled the VA as unappointed, and unconfirmed, shadow officials from their base at the president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie assured lawmakers at a hearing last month that the “Mar-a-Lago Crowd,” as it’s known within the agency, doesn’t set policy. But emails published by ProPublica tell a different story.
“The reports of corruption and cronyism are serious and we cannot allow VA to sweep this under the rug,” Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), the ranking member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a statement to MilitaryTimes. “This issue will remain a top concern of the committee until all our questions have been answered.”
Wilkie declined to give committee Democrats correspondence between the Mar-a-Lago Crowd and VA officials, according to the MilitaryTimes, due to “ongoing litigation alleging violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.”
Walz balked at that suggestion, which he called “unacceptable,” and is demanding the documents by month’s end. But the documents do not appear to be under subpoena.
It’s not the first time Veterans Affairs has run afoul of Congress for refusing to hand over documents or give an oversight committee access to key officials. Both Republicans and Democrats on House Veterans Affairs slammed the agency in 2015, when Congress was investigating allegations of waste and abuse, after two of the five officials the committee subpoenaed pleaded the Fifth.
“I am sick and tired of asking for information from the department, and being given a runaround,” then-committee chair former Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) said at the time.
Veterans Affairs has been roiled by controversy in recent months. Trump took to Twitter in March to fire former secretary David Shulkin, who had been under a heavy cloud of alleged ethics violations. But the ProPublica investigation suggested Shulkin’s departure may have had less to do with his ethical lapses than with his increasing disfavor with Perlmutter, Moskowitz, and Sherman.
Trump nominated White House physician Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson to replace Shulkin, but allegations of inappropriate conduct on the job quickly derailed that nomination.
The ProPublica investigation suggested Wilkie, the new VA head, my be looking to cut his own path without interference from Mar-a-Lago, but how much influence Trump’s associates still have within the agency remains unclear.