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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.
ANKARA (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday Turkey would press on with its offensive into northeastern Syria and "crush the heads of terrorists" if a deal with Washington on the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from the area were not fully implemented.
Erdogan agreed on Thursday in talks with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence a five-day pause in the offensive to allow time for the Kurdish fighters to withdraw from a "safe zone" Turkey aims to establish in northeast Syria near the Turkish border.
President Trump stoked confusion Friday by declaring the U.S. has "secured the Oil" in the Middle East amid continued fallout from the Turkish invasion of northern Syria that he enabled by pulling American troops out of the region.
It wasn't immediately clear what the president was talking about, as there were no publicly known developments in Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East relating to oil. White House aides did not return requests for comment.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. State Department investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state has found no evidence of deliberate mishandling of classified information by department employees.
The investigation, the results of which were released on Friday by Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley's office, centered on whether Clinton, who served as the top U.S. diplomat from 2009 to 2013, jeopardized classified information by using a private email server rather than a government one.
BYESVILLE — A Meadowbrook High School student removed from class last Friday for being intoxicated is now facing a felony charge after allegedly threatening to shoot people if the previous incident harmed his chances to join a branch of the United States military.
Gabriel D. Blackledge, 18, of Cambridge, is facing one count of making terrorist threats, a third-degree felony, filed by the Guernsey County Sheriff's Office on Thursday. Blackledge remained incarcerated in the county jail on a $250,000 bond with no 10 percent allowed, according to the sheriff's office's website.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday that no U.S. troops will take part in enforcing the so-called safe zone in northern Syria and the United States "is continuing our deliberate withdrawal from northeastern Syria."
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan earlier on Friday said Turkey will set up a dozen observation posts across northeast Syria, insisting that a planned "safe zone" will extend much further than U.S. officials said was covered under a fragile ceasefire deal.