Bleeding Cool has long been chronicling Marvel Chairman Ike Perlmutter's involvement in the presidential administration of his friend, Donald Trump. Ike and Laura Perlmutter have donated millions to Trump's campaigns, with Laura Perlmutter serving on Trump's inauguration committee and Ike Perlmutter serving as an unofficial advisor on the subject of veterans' healthcare. The Perlmutters were present at a televised VA bill signing last year, with Trump presenting Ike Perlmutter with the pen used to sign the bill.
After Perlmutter reportedly played a key role in ousting VA chief David Shulkin back in March, with Perlmutter and other members of Trump's Mar-a-Lago club holding up medical record reform in May, 11 members of Congress sent a letter calling out the Marvel Chairman along with Dr. Bruce Moscowitz for wielding undue influence at the government office with any official authority or government experience.
But things don't seem to have changed much, and last week a new report from ProPublica shined a new light on just how deep the reported influence of Perlmutter, Moscowitz, and lawyer Marc Sherman goes at the agency. Amongst the details provided in the report were reports of Perlmutter using his influence to help Palm Beach tennis court manager Karen Donnelly access medical records and a veteran suicide event at the New York Stock Exchange which featured appearances by Disney and Marvel executives and characters, amongst general complaints that the group were essentially controlling policy at the Department of Veteran's Affairs.
Now, this new report has caught the attention of some more prominent U.S. Senators, including potential presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, Senator Brian Schatz, prompting them to pen a letter demanding an official investigation into Perlmutter and the others' involvement.
Below, read the full text of the letter, sent to V.A. Inspector General Michael J. Missal.
In the wake of a ProPublica investigation earlier this week revealing that a trio of President Trump's "Mar-a-Lago cronies are secretly shaping the Trump administration's veterans policies," 1 we are writing to request an investigation of the involvement of these three individuals in any activities of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and to understand whether unqualified, unaccountable private citizens with no official government role or responsibilities had or continue to have any undue influence over VA decisions. According to ProPublica, three members of President Trump's Mar-a-Lago private club (Mr. Ike Perlmutter, Dr. Bruce Moskowitz, and Mr. Marc Sherman, otherwise known as the "troika" or the "Mar-a-Lago Crowd") have wielded disturbingly widespread influence over decision-making related to the VA, including personnel and programs. This trio has no military or government experience, and yet they reportedly convened regularly at President Trump's private club in Florida and remotely "bombarded VA officials with demands, many of them inapt or unhelpful." These unaccountable, unqualified influencers reportedly "acted like board members pounding a CEO to tum around a struggling company" when advising the VA, "view[ed] themselves as making the decisions" at the agency, and created a culture in which VA officials needed to "go down and kiss the ring" on taxpayer-funded visits as a matter of job security.
There are numerous examples of what appear to be clear abuses of ethics and misuse of government resources for private gain. Mr. Perlmutter, the Chairman of Marvel Entertainment, LLC, included then-VA Secretary Shulkin at an event on the New York Stock Exchange that reportedly "turned into a promotional opportunity for Perlmutter's company." Dr. Moskowitz, "an internist and friend of Trump confidant Ike Perlmutter,"3 reportedly pushed his idea for Apple Inc. and the VA to create an application to help veterans locate medical services, and suggested that his own son – who had developed a similar app – serve as a technical advisor on the project. The entire proposal reportedly "made Apple and VA officials uncomfortable," and the momentum behind the project faded due to a lack of agency support. These accounts and others detailed in the ProPublica investigation, if true, paint a disturbing picture of corruption and cronyism that is not only antithetical to transparent, accountable, and ethical government, but will make it more difficult for the Secretary to lead the VA in a way that allows him to exercise his independent judgment. While senior government leaders can in many cases benefit from outside advice, advisors with no official government position like Messrs. Perlmutter, Moskowitz, and Sherman appear to be governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (F ACA), which requires among other things that: (1) any outside advice provided must be objective and accessible to the public; (2) outside advisory groups must be utilized "solely for advisory functions" without managerial or decision-making authority; and (3) appropriate records must be kept and made available to the public. 5 In its rulemaking, the General Services Administration (GSA) further assigned agency heads with the responsibility to "develop procedures to assure that the advice or recommendations of advisory committees will not be inappropriately influenced by … any special interest."6 Membership in President Trump's private club, alone, is not sufficient to have an informed opinion on the best way to deliver care and benefits to our nation's veterans. And membership in President Trump's private club should not give any individual the right to exert influence on decisions made by the VA that impact the over nine million veterans under its care.
Mr. Perlmutter, Dr. Moskowitz, and Mr. Sherman have reportedly claimed to have "no direct influence over the [VA]."7 We write so that we can fully understand the extent of their past and present involvement in decisions related to the VA. Accordingly, we ask that you investigate this matter and address the following questions:
1. What role did Mr. Perlmutter, Dr. Moskowitz, or Mr. Sherman play in VA decision-making and activities, and do they currently have such a role?
2. Did these individuals have access to the Secretary or other important VA decision-makers, and if so, how did they obtain this access? What specific VA actions were influenced by these individuals' communications with, and advice to, key VA officials?
3. To the extent that Mr. Perlmutter, Dr. Moskowitz, or Mr. Sherman had access to key VA officials and provided advice and information, were their actions and the actions by VA officials consistent with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (F ACA)?
4. To the extent that Mr. Perlmutter, Dr. Moskowitz, or Mr. Sherman had access to key VA officials and provided advice and information, were their actions and the actions by VA officials consistent with relevant ethics rules and laws, including those designed to prevent improper use of government resources? Did these individuals attempt to use their access to benefit themselves or their family members financially or otherwise?
Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to receiving answers to these questions.