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A Federal Watchdog Is Reviewing The Influence Of Mar-A-Lago Club Members On The VA
PALM BEACH — A federal watchdog agency will review the involvement of members of President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in influencing decisions at the Department of Veterans Affairs after two Democratic senators requested an investigation.
U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, both Democrats, asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office in August for the probe. The request followed a report published by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization, describing three Mar-a-Lago members — Marvel Entertainment Chairman Ike Perlmutter, physician Bruce Moskowitz, and attorney Marc Sherman — as "shadow rulers of the VA."
The senators asked GAO for "an investigation ... 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."
In a Nov. 19 response, a GAO official characterized the senators' requested investigation as a "review" and added: "GAO accepts your request as work that is within the scope of its authority. At the current time we anticipate that staff with the required skills will be available to initiate an engagement in about five months."
The ProPublica article described the "Mar-a-Lago crowd" as playing an active role in influencing policy and personnel decisions at the VA. At one point, ProPublica reported, former VA Secretary David Shulkin visited Mar-a-Lago on a weekend Trump was not there to hear concerns from Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman about a $10 billion contract to modernize VA records.
Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman issued a joint statement in August defending their roles.
"After the President's election, we saw an opportunity to share our expertise in organizational management and our personal relationships with healthcare experts around the country to assist the VA as it undertook an aggressive reform of its healthcare delivery and systems ... At all times, we offered our help and advice on a voluntary basis, seeking nothing at all in return," they said in a two-page statement to ProPublica.
The liberal group VoteVets filed a lawsuit against the VA in August claiming the Mar-a-Lago members are acting as a federal advisory council and should therefore be compelled to make their meetings and records public.
Sherman, reached Tuesday, declined comment. Perlmutter and Moskowitz could not be reached. The Veterans Administration press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Presidents throughout history have consulted unofficial "kitchen cabinet" advisers, but Trump critics say the current president is different because many of those who have his ear are paying members of his for-profit club.
"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," Warren and Schatz wrote in their August letter.
The questions about Mar-a-Lago members influencing the VA highlight the need for visitor logs to Trump's private properties to be kept and made public, said Anne Weismann, an attorney for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
"Especially this president because we know he relies so often on a cadre of outsiders for advice, they have an outside influence on decisions that he makes, and yet we have no access to who they even are," said Weismann.
Trump has visited Mar-a-Lago 18 times since taking office and has tapped Mar-a-Lago Club members for ambassadorships. The president wrapped up his first Mar-a-Lago visit of the 2018-19 season on Sunday.
Trump friend and Mar-a-Lago Club member Christopher Ruddy recently told The Palm Beach Post that when the president visits his Palm Beach estate, he gets "feedback from friends and people he meets down here." But, Ruddy added, "The idea that somebody can be a member and then have private conversations with him is preposterous. There's a virtual rope line around him if not a real rope line."
©2018 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Military veterans from throughout Northeast Florida came together Saturday morning to honor comrades in arms who were prisoners of war or missing in action, and remember their sacrifice.
After the plane landed, Pope Army Airfield was silent on Saturday.
A chaplain prayed and a family member sobbed.
Tarah McLaughlin's fingers traced her husband's flag-draped coffin before she pressed two fingers to her lips then pressed her fingers to the coffin.
The remains of Staff Sgt. Ian McLaughlin, 29, of Newport News, Virginia, arrived back to Fort Bragg a week after he was killed Jan. 11 by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
Pfc. Miguel Angel Villalon, 21, of Joliet, Illinois, also was killed in the same incident.
The U.S. Space Force has a name tape for uniforms now. Get excited people.
In a tweet from its official account, the Space Force said its uniform name tapes have "touched down in the Pentagon," sharing a photo of it on the chest of Gen. John W. Raymond, the newly-minted Chief of Space Operations for the new service branch nested in the Department of the Air Force.
PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump gave a minute-to-minute account of the U.S. drone strikes that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in remarks to a Republican fund-raising dinner on Friday night, according to audio obtained by CNN.
With his typical dramatic flourish, Trump recounted the scene as he monitored the strikes from the White House Situation Room when Soleimani was killed.
The U.S. Navy will name its fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier after Doris Miller, an iconic World War II sailor recognized for his heroism during the Pearl Harbor attack, according to reports in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and U.S. Naval Institute News.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly is expected to announce the naming of CVN-81 during a ceremony on Monday in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, according to USNI. Two of Miller's nieces are expected to be there, according to the Star-Advertiser.