VoteVets and Democracy Forward Amend Lawsuit With New Evidence that Trump Administration Continues to Hide Full Extent of Mar-a-Lago Influence over Veterans Policy, Violating Federal Law
VA Senior Staff Viewed Mar-a-Lago Council as “the Implementer for VA” on Key Veterans Health Initiatives, Relied on “Template” Created by Council to Set Direction for the Department
Documents Reveal Council Tried to Use Prominent Position to Influence VA Projects With Personal Interest
Washington, DC— In light of new evidence, Democracy Forward, on behalf of VoteVets, amended its lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s unlawful reliance on the advice of Mar-a-Lago Club members. The so-called “Mar-a-Lago Council” has unlawfully shaped and influenced the Veterans Affairs agency outside the federal transparency laws, including in ways that raise concerns about self-dealing.
Despite the Administration’s attempt to shield the shadow council from public scrutiny, newly revealed documents have brought more of the Council’s influence into view. The members of the illegal troika—Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, Palm Beach concierge doctor Bruce Moskowitz, and financial consultant Marc Sherman—have met more than two dozen times to discuss policy decisions affecting millions of America’s veterans. Further illustrating the extent of the VA’s reliance on the Council, records show that the trio:
- Played a significant role in advising the VA on the transformation of its digital records system, which, with its $10 billion price tag, constitutes the largest health information technology project in history. So pervasive was the Council’s involvement that they were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements, specially customized to facilitate discussion among the Council members;
- Drove development of a mobile app for veterans, which the Council recommended the VA develop in consultation with Apple and prominent healthcare centers. At the Council’s urging, the tool was to be substantially adapted from a proprietary platform owned and developed by Council-member Moskowitz; and
- Influenced key staffing decisions within the VA, including the nomination of former Secretary David Shulkin, and the search process for an open Under Secretary post.
“The more we see, the more that stinks with this Mar-a-Lago VA Council,” said Will Fischer, Iraq War veteran and Director of Government Relations, for VoteVets. “Operating with absolutely no oversight, or any Congressionally sanctioned role, this clandestine cabal was providing material guidance that seems to have affected VA decision-making. To merely say veterans deserve better than having our VA managed between the back nine and the back patio of Donald Trump’s country club would be a gross understatement.”
“Every new fact we learn about this secret council’s influence fits a Trump Administration pattern of “friends and family” government — and we haven’t even seen the full picture yet,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “Veterans deserve a VA run by competent public servants, not the President’s golfing buddies.”
In September 2018, Secretary Wilkie testified before Congress that he has not been in contact with Council members since he flew to Mar-a-Lago for an in-person meeting with the trio during his first week in office. The Administration has, however, continuously stonewalled efforts by several Congressional offices to obtain records that bear on the Council’s influence and access within the VA, including with respect to requests sent by House Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Walz and House Oversight Ranking Member Cummings. While the VA Office of the Inspector General has declined to open an investigation into the Mar-a-Lago Council, despite requests by Sens. Duckworth and Hassan, the Government Accountability Office has agreed to open its own investigation in response to a request from Sens. Schatz and Warren.
In its continued effort to shield the council from scrutiny, on November 16 the government attempted to dismiss this suit, including by arguing that the illegal shadow council exerted too much influence over veterans affairs to be held accountable under federal transparency laws.
The amended complaint was filed on December 6, 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.
VoteVets continues to focus on matters including, but not limited to, foreign policy, energy security, veterans’ unemployment, and opening military service to life-long Americans born to undocumented immigrants, as well as continued investment in care for veterans. More often than not, Veterans have a stake in the top issues of the day, and VoteVets.org is committed to getting their voices heard on these issues. For that reason, VoteVets.org has, and will continue to, work with all progressive allies representing labor, immigration, gay and lesbian rights, and environmentalists, when their issues coincide with the needs of troops and veterans.