WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials are declining to give members of Congress documents related to accusations that outside businessmen are unduly influencing department policy, citing legal ongoing disputes over the issue.
In response, the ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee blasted the move as “an attempt to stonewall not only a member of Congress, but the American public.”
At issue are concerns raised by a ProPublica report this summer that identified three businessmen — Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, primary care specialist Dr. Bruce Moskowitz, and attorney Marc Sherman — as key architects of a host of veterans policy decisions by Trump’s administration.
None of the men hold official government positions, but all three are confidants of Trump and members of his exclusive Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Documents released by the news organization show frequent contact between the men and top VA officials last year, including discussions on policy matters and personal favors.
Democrats are furious over reports that members of Trump's Florida resort may be setting VA policy in secret.
Last month, at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told lawmakers he has only met with the men once, as a courtesy during a trip to Florida, and that they have no role in crafting department policy.
But after House Democrats in August requested correspondence between the men and VA officials, Wilkie refused, citing “ongoing litigation alleging violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act” making them “not appropriate for release at this time.”
The claim appears to be connected to a lawsuit filed by the left-leaning advocacy group VoteVets, to block the men from contact with VA leadership on official matters.
Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz, the top ranking Democrat on the veterans’ panel, called Wilkie’s excuse for not releasing the documents “unacceptable” and without legal merit.
“We have received nothing from VA except excuses,” he said in a statement. “The reports of corruption and cronyism are serious and we cannot allow VA to sweep this under the rug. This issue will remain a top concern of the committee until all our questions have been answered.”
Walz is demanding the documents be turned over to the committee before the end of the month.
In his Senate appearance, Wilkie told lawmakers he believes that VA “has calmed down” in the first few weeks of his tenure as secretary.
Wilkie was nominated for the post after former VA Secretary David Shulkin was fired by Trump over Twitter in March, and after Trump’s other replacement nominee, Rear. Adm. Ronny Jackson, withdraw from the process amid reports of unprofessional behavior while working as the White House physician.