/Senate Democrats say Trump associates influenced VA decisions, renew call for investigation

Senate Democrats say Trump associates influenced VA decisions, renew call for investigation

Senate Democrats have again asked a government watchdog agency within the Department of Veterans Affairs to investigate possible wrongdoing involving three Trump associates and Mar-a-Lago members, who despite being private citizens with no official government roles, reportedly have extensive control of the department’s operations.

Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Brian Schatz sent a letter to VA Inspector General Michael Missal on Monday, which was made public early Wednesday morning, saying they wanted to “reiterate our request for an investigation” by Missal into the “interference of these unqualified, unaccountable private citizens with ties to President Trump in VA decisions.”

The senators previously sent a letter in August to Missal and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, requesting that the government watchdog agencies investigate the three Trump Mar-a-Lago members’ roles within the VA.

Their wide-ranging influence was detailed in an August ProPublica investigation. The GAO told Warren and Schatz last month that their office will investigate while Missal’s office declined.

The Democrats cited a new ProPublica report from December 3 as their reason for requesting Missal to reconsider investigating.

The news outlet’s August report revealed documents showing that three Trump associates and Mar-a-Lago members—Marvel Entertainment Chairman Ike Perlmutter, physician Bruce Moskowitz and lawyer Marc Sherman—were “secretly shaping the Trump administration’s veterans’ policies.”

Documents obtained through public records requests showed how involved the three men were, including offering opinions on job candidates, managing the $68 billion annual budget and providing input on policies.

Democrats, Watchdog, Investigate, Trump, Mar-a-Lago, Veterans Affairs
President Donald Trump shakes the hand of Ike Perlmutter, CEO of Marvel Entertainment, before signing an executive order at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, April 27, 2017, in Washington, D.C. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The second report, thanks to more obtained emails, revealed “a multibillion-dollar effort to overhaul electronic health records for millions of veterans,” which included Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman examining a confidential draft of a $10 billion government contract. In addition, according to the emails, Moskowitz tried to convince the VA and Apple to use an app for the health records overhaul that he designed.

“We believe this new information detailing the Mar-a-Lago trio’s access to, and pernicious influence on, key VA functions should compel your office to reconsider,” said Warren and Schatz in their letter. “The VA is supposed serve the health care needs of America’s veterans—not the business interests of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago cronies.”

Due to the “mounting evidence detailing the breadth and depth of the alleged involvement” of the three Trump associates, the Democrats added, the “VA Inspector General must conduct its own parallel investigation.”

Warren and Schatz argued Missal’s office has “intimate knowledge of the VA, and access to documents, personnel, and other sources of agency information that may not otherwise be available to GAO.”

The GAO told Warren and Schatz on November 19 that while the government watchdog will investigate, it won’t have the resources available to do so for about five months, putting the start date for the probe somewhere around April 2019.