Three members of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago golf resort are trying to run the Government agency responsible for US military veterans.
Documents and witness testimony point to the efforts of Bruce Moskowitz, a Palm Beach, Florida doctor who helps wealthy people obtain high-service “concierge” medical care; Ike Perlmutter, the chairman of Marvel Entertainment; and lawyer Marc Sherman. None has ever served in the US military or government.
But in February, shortly after Peter O’Rourke became chief of staff for the VA, he received an e-mail from Moskowitz about a new mental health initiative. “Received,” O’Rourke replied. “I will begin a project plan and develop a timeline for action.”
VA insiders call the trio “the Mar-a-Lago Crowd”. Hundreds of documents and interviews describe how they reviewed policy and personnel decisions, pressed for new programs, and summoned officials — at taxpayers’ expense — to Mar-a-Lago. VA leaders — including the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Chief of Staff, and undersecretaries — who challenged the men have been pushed aside.
A “former administration official” summarizes “Everyone has to go down and kiss the ring.”
Perlmutter regularly talks by phone with Donald Trump and dines with Trump when the President visits Mar-a-Lago. “On any veterans issue, the first person the president calls is Ike,” another former official said.
Through a crisis-communications consultant, Moskowitz, Perlmutter, and Sherman said:
At all times, we offered our help and advice on a voluntary basis, seeking nothing at all in return. While we were always willing to share our thoughts, we did not make or implement any type of policy, possess any authority over agency decisions, or direct government officials to take any actions….To the extent anyone thought our role was anything other than that, we don’t believe it was the result of anything we said or did.
VA spokesman Curt Cashour and White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters refused to answer specific questions. Cashour said a “broad range of input from individuals both inside and outside VA has helped us immensely over the last year and a half”. Walters maintained that the three men “have no direct influence over the Department of Veterans Affairs”.
Perlmutter, Moscowitz, and Sherman convened a meeting of health care executives with Trump on December 28, 2016. Perlmutter soon recommended David Shulkin to head the VA.
In early February 2017, Shulkin flew to Mar-a-Lago to see the trio. A few days later Moscowitz wrote Shulkin, “We do not need to meet in person monthly, but meet face to face only when necessary. We will set up phone conference calls at a convenient time.”
Shulkin responded: “I know how busy all of you are and having you be there in person, and so present, was truly a gift. I found the time we spent, the focus that came out of our discussions, and the time we had with the President very meaningful.”
The Mar-a-Lago Crowd soon pressed Shulkin to act on their wishes, and besieged staff with calls and demands that they act faster. VA officials responded by asking approval from the three men for Shulkin’s plans.
“Everything needs to be run by them,” a former official said. “They view themselves as making the decisions.”
The three men say, “None of us has gained any financial benefit from this volunteer effort.” However, Perlmutter sought Shulkin’s attendance at a promotional event for Marvel at the New York Stock Exchange, and Moskowitz brought in his son to advise the VA on a possible mobile application for veterans to find nearby medical services.
The Mar-a-Lago crowd, who grew disillusioned with Shulkin, may have been involved in the Secretary’s dismissal in March 2018. Although Shulkin was weakened by ethical charges, three former officials said he was finally removed because of differences with Perlmutter, Moskowitz, and Sherman over a contract, worth more than $10 billion, for electronic record-keeping software.
Meanwhile, allies of the trio were put in place in top positions at the VA, posing a challenge for new VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.
EPA Allowing Asbestos Back Into Manufacturing
The Environmental Protection Agency, which has gutted environmental protections during the Trump Administration, is allowing asbestos back into manufacturing.
On June 1, the EPA authorized a “Significant New Use Rule” that allowes the creation of new products containing asbestos on a case-by-case basis. The agency said it will “no longer consider the effect or presence of substances in the air, ground, or water in its risk assessments”.
Asbestos was widely used in building insulation until it was banned in most countries in the 1970s. The US sharply restricted its use without a complete prohibtion.
The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization said in April that asbestos-related deaths now total almost 40,000 annually, with lung cancer and mesothelioma among the most common illnesses.
Healthy Building Network said asbestos still poses a major health risk for everyone exposed to it, including those who mine it, those who handle it in industrial facilities, and those who are near or inside renovation and construction projects.
The Russian company Uralasbest, one of the world’s largest producers and sellers of asbestos, is now decorating pallets of its product with a seal of Trump’s face and the wording “Approved by Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States”.
Trump’s 15 Falsehoods in 14 Minutes
At a dinner with leading CEOs at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Donald Trump makes 15 false claims in 14 minutes.
Trump’s deceptions included daily openings of steel plants, a record growth in GDP, the lowest Asian-American unemployment rate in history, Apple building a $350 billion campus and plants, and a 75% cut in Federal regulations.
Quick fact check: Trump spoke to business leaders for 14 minutes at dinner tonight. He made 15 false claims. pic.twitter.com/plnBpqZ8Te
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) August 8, 2018
The guest list for the dinnner:
Michael Manley — Fiat Chrysler
Harold Hamm — Continental Resources
Alex Gorsky — Johnson & Johnson
Indra Nooyi — PepsiCo
John Catsimatidis — Red Apple Group
Frederick Smith — FedEx
Mark Sutton — International Paper
Ajaypal Banga — Mastercard
Dennis Muilenburg — Boeing
Mark Weinberger — EY
Darius Adamczyk — Honeywell
Jim Koch — Boston Beer
Richard LeFrak — LeFrak