WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats are demanding the White House clarify who is leading veterans policy efforts for the administration after a ProPublica investigation found evidence a trio of executives with personal ties to President Donald Trump have been privately influencing department decisions.
“This situation reeks of corruption and cronyism,” said Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., and ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “If these revelations prove true … that would amount to an unprecedented, disturbing, and profoundly unacceptable betrayal of our nation’s veterans.”
In a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, Walz is requesting the department turn over copies of all communications VA leadership has had with Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, primary care specialist Dr. Bruce Moskowitz, an attorney Marc Sherman.
All three are members of Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago resort, and the ProPublica report alleges all three have been working as “shadow rulers” of VA policy from Florida despite having no formal government titles or role.
Perlmutter and Moskowitz have also been seen at the White House for some high profile events, including the signing of new VA accountability legislation last summer. At the time, Trump signaled the pair out as “incredibly successful people” who “have an affinity for helping the veterans.”
In a statement to ProPublica, White House officials said the three men have no direct influence over the department. But sources within VA told the news organization that all three have sent administrative and program requests to department leaders in recent months, and been closely involved with department hiring and firing decisions.
In his letter to Wilkie, Walz called the report deeply disturbing.
“Three private individuals … who are not accountable to veterans or taxpayers and none of whom have served in the United States military or government, have been placed in decision-making positions in the department without nomination by the president or Senate confirmation,” he wrote.
Similarly, Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan called on the White House to explain what role the men have in crafting veterans policy.
“Leaving decisions about the health care of millions of veterans up to President Trump’s friends at Mar-a-Lago … insults the sacrifices our veterans have made and threatens their care,” she said in a statement. “This troubling report suggests a lack of serious commitment from President Trump to ensuring that veterans in New Hampshire and across the country get the care that they have earned.”
Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., said the confusion was further evidence that the White House needs to make public its visitor logs and membership information for Trump’s private resorts.
Walz requested the documentation — along with details of VA employees visits to Florida to discuss veterans issues with the men — by the end of the month.
Wilkie was sworn in as VA Secretary on July 30 and thus far has made no public statements about the three businessmen or their influence on department policies.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.