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Watchdog Says Three Mar-A-Lago Members Acted As Organizers & Advisers to VA

Three members of Donald Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago resort acted as advisers and organizers at the Department of Veterans Affairs from 2016 to 2018, the Government Accountability Office determined after an investigation into the private citizens’ involvement in the federal agency.

The Mar-a-Lago members were involved in hundreds of email exchanges with VA officials, frequent phone calls, and at least five in-person meetings. Three top VA officials, none of whom still work at the department, communicated with the men over private email accounts, records of which were unavailable to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) during its investigation.

PALM BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 13: Former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort where he resides after leaving the White House on February 13, 2021, in Palm Beach, Florida. The Senate on Saturday acquitted Donald Trump of inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th in Washington, DC. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Questions first arose in 2018 about the influence that three members of Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Fla., exerted over the VA, despite none of the men having had served in the U.S. military or government. Some lawmakers and veterans’ advocates worried that the so-called “Mar-A-Lago Three”–Marvel Entertainment Chairman Ike Perlmutter, lawyer Marc Sherman, and Bruce Moskowitz, a Palm Beach doctor–used their proximity to Trump to steer VA officials on policies affecting millions of Americans. At the request of Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., the Government Accountability Office initiated an investigation in spring 2019 into the relationship the three men had with VA officials. The results, released Wednesday, show the men were involved in at least five VA initiatives, from personnel decisions at department headquarters to a multibillion-dollar contract with Cerner Corp. to overhaul the agency’s electronic health record system.

The GAO reviewed 223 email exchanges between the men and VA officials from 2016 through 2018. The three men made recommendations to the VA in 28 of those emails. In 70 others, they provided information to VA officials about different initiatives, including their thoughts on how the VA should handle its community care program. At the time, the VA was negotiating a major change to its process for sending veterans to private-sector doctors.

 

“The three private citizens acted as organizers by scheduling meetings with VA officials and helping to plan events,” the report reads. “At times, the emails show they acted as advisers by making recommendations regarding, for example, the Cerner contract negotiation … and potential candidates for senior-level VA positions.”

 

“This new report confirms that three of Trump’s friends, who have no experience in government let alone with veterans matters, were secretly shaping the VA’s policies without any transparency or oversight,” Schatz said in response to the report. “Being a member of the president’s club does not qualify you to influence decisions that affect the millions who served in uniform.”



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