Even before Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie was sworn in July 30, he discovered what his predecessor, David Shulkin, had known: The real power at the VA resides at Mar-a-Lago, President Trump's private club in Florida, wielded by a triumvirate of Mar-a-Lago members led by Ike Perlmutter, the almost comically reclusive CEO of Marvel Entertainment, Isaac Arnsdorf reports at ProPublica.
When Trump asked Perlmutter, a friend and confidante, to help put together his government in December 2016, he agreed to be an outside adviser, selected veterans as his focus, and roped in two other friends, Palm Beach doctor Bruce Moskovitz and lawyer Marc Sherman, Arnsdorf says. The "Mar-a-Lago Crowd," as they're known among VA insiders, have secretly exerted sweeping influence on the VA ever since — even though none of the three has ever served in the U.S. military or government and appear to have no special knowledge of veterans issues.
Perlmutter, Moskowitz, and Sherman have pushed the VA to start new programs, some of which could benefit them personally, and essentially forced out or vetoed jobs for top officials — including Shulkin — who don't accede to their wishes, Arnsdorf says, basing his report on "hundreds of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with former administration officials." Shulkin, Wilkie, and other officials have flown down to consult with the triumvirate at Mar-a-Lago, at taxpayer expense. "Everyone has to go down and kiss the ring," a former administration official tells ProPublica.
The three men said through a crisis-communications consultant that they have "offered our help and advice on a voluntary basis" but "did not make or implement any type of policy, possess any authority over agency decisions, or direct government officials to take any actions." According to emails, VA officials treated the Mar-a-Lago Group's constant "advice" as orders. Read more about the bizarre arrangement Arnsdorf calls "without parallel in modern presidential history" at ProPublica.