CREW just obtained damning records of the influence of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago acquaintances within the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The more than 300 pages of emails, obtained by Freedom of Information Act request, show the outsized influence of Ike Perlmutter, Marc Sherman and Bruce Moskowitz. None of the men have ever worked for the government, nor do they have any specific expertise on the policies they were allowed to shape at one of the largest agencies in the U.S. government. Their main qualification for the unprecedented arrangement was that they were the president’s paying customers as members of Mar-a-Lago, which he continues to own and profit from in office.
Despite misgivings, career VA employees were obligated to waste taxpayer time and resources to respond to the trio of Mar-a-Lago members—purely because of their connections to Trump. “They are coming from POTUS friend/doctor,” reads one response to a frustrated official, saying that the career official would need to “handle sensitively and with facts.” Many of the VA employees’ frustrations had to do with the trio’s intervention into a VA information technology project; the emails provide hard evidence of what was previously only reported as anonymous sources within the department in a Politico story.
Another said that a meeting with two of the unofficial advisors was “just a grin and bear it session.”
VA staff expressed frustration about the situation, saying that they were “baffled” and that the outside advisor’s questions were “just ridiculous,” their understanding was outdated, and they were “out of their depth.”
Employees also complained that the trio’s involvement impeded the department’s work, saying that Marc Sherman did not “understand the context of government nor does he understand the [app development] contract,” which caused people involved in the process to “talk past each other.”
At times, VA employees appeared to be confused about the source of the three men’s authority over department matters. At the start of Moskowitz’s involvement in a project, one VA official noted: “He is a White House advisor. I don’t know much about him other than he is important.”
Others described the situation differently: A Department of Health and Human Services official included in the email discussions referred to “Dr. Moskowitz of the US Department of Veterans Affairs,” and in another email, Moskowitz was described as “an advisor and part of the extended White House / VA team.”
While ProPublica has reported on the Mar-a-Lago members’ influence over VA contracts and budgeting, these new documents shed light on just how outsized the trio’s authority within the department was. In a March 2018 email, Moskowitz demanded that he and Sherman be included on “every call” discussing a VA contract.
The two men also forwarded assigned reading materials to VA employees before calls.
The influence of the so-called “Mar-a-Lago guys” over VA department affairs raises serious ethical red flags for a number of reasons, including indications that Moskowitz may have sought to use his authority to benefit his son Aaron, an app developer. The documents obtained by CREW give a taste of just how bad things have been, and show the need for further scrutiny of Perlmutter, Sherman and Moskowitz’s involvement in the Department of Veterans Affairs.