VA Secretary Wilkie assures Sen. Murray he severed ties with ‘Mar-a-Lago Crowd’
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., got assurances Wednesday from Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie that he has ended a relationship among three friends of President Donald Trump who were helping shape VA policy from Trump’s luxury resort in Florida.
News of the bizarre consulting relationship broke last month in a story by ProPublica, which documented how Ike Perlmutter, the chairman of Marvel Entertainment; Bruce Moskowitz, a Palm Beach doctor; and attorney Marc Sherman had been guiding policy under former VA Secretary David Shulkin through their membership at Trump’s private club, Mar-a Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida.
The three men, who had no official government jobs and had not served in any branch of the U.S. military, were known by VA officials as the “Mar-a Lago Crowd.” According to the ProPublica story, the three men had been requiring VA administrators to consult with them, which put them in a position to steer policy decisions for millions of veterans.
In response, Murray sent a letter on Aug. 7 to Wilkie seeking records of the VA interactions with the “Mar-a Lago Crowd.”
“I request you immediately evaluate the degree to which these individuals were able to inappropriately dictate VA policy and provide all requested information to Congress as it pursues its oversight responsibilities,” Murray wrote in the letter. “You and your staff must immediately take steps to ensure Mr. Perlmutter, Mr. Moskowitz, or Mr. Sherman are no longer in positions to influence VA policy.”
At a Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing on Wednesday, Murray asked Wilkie why he had not responded to her request for information.
“Six weeks ago I sent you a letter about my concerns over the reports private, well-connected individuals known as the Mar-a-Lago Crowd who are exercising wildly inappropriate influence over the VA,” Murray said. “It is entirely unacceptable to the VA to put those people’s interest before what is in the interests of our veterans.”
Wilkie, who was confirmed as secretary in July, said Wednesday that he was not aware that Murray had sent the letter.
“But I’ll give you my response right now,” he said. “And I agree with you about outside influence. A lot of those stories took place before I became secretary.”
Murray said she knew that but asked Wilkie whether any VA officials were currently consulting with Perlmutter, Moskowitz or Sherman.
“Not that I know of,” Wilkie said. “I met them once for an hour when I was at Palm Beach the first week I was acting (secretary). I’ve had no connection with them since then. I am committed to making sure that I am the sole person responsible to you.”
Murray then asked Wilkie if he could assure “this committee that there will be no inappropriate interference.”
Wilkie responded: “Absolutely.”
Murray followed by reminding Wilkie that she wanted his agency to follow up with answers to her Aug. 7 letter “because I’m looking for the data and the records on that, as well.”