Three of Trump's Mar-a-Lago associates are under federal scrutiny over an alleged scheme to "monetize" veterans' medical records during their Trump-appointed roles as "advisers" to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), ProPublica reports.
House Democrats have implicated billionaire Marvel Entertainment Chairman Ike Perlmutter, attorney Marc Sherman, and doctor Bruce Moskowitz as part of a 19-month investigation led by the House Oversight and Veterans' Affairs committees.
House Democrats have accused the three men of violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) — a Watergate-era law requiring transparency when federal agencies consult with outside experts — via "the secret role the trio played in developing VA initiatives and programs, including a 'hugely profitable' plan to monetize veterans' medical records."
Perlmutter claimed an exemption from FACA in 2017, writing in an email that the rule "does not apply because we are not a formal group in any way."
New documents released suggest otherwise, according to House investigators. "Bolstered" by their connections with Mar-a-Lago, wrote Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., the three men "violated the law and sought to exert improper influence over government officials to further their own personal interests."
Back in 2017, the Trump administration announced that the three men, who had zero military or government experience and who were all Mar-a-Lago members, were "very, very involved" in an effort to "straighten out the VA." CNBC reports that the trio had originally formed an advisory committee to "transform" the department, which has suffered from notorious staff shortages and backlogs in health care, leading to the death of at least 300,000 veterans waiting for care as of 2015.
According to ProPublica, the three men organized budgeting and contracting efforts, but also pushed for a "hugely profitable plan" to privatize the VA patient database. Hundreds of emails uncovered by House Democrats found that the group apparently worked with then-VA Secretary David Shulkin to award a contract to Moskowitz's nonprofit foundation that would effectively allow the organization to lead the monetization.
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In a June 2017 email, Moskowitz claimed that the scheme could be "leveraged into hundreds of millions in revenue" due to interest from companies like Johnson & Johnson, Apple, IBM and CVS. The men were reportedly introduced to executives from these companies by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Trump's daughter and son-in law who also worked for President Trump.
So far, documents have not confirmed whether access to any patient data was ever sold, nor if any of the three profited personally from of their involvement, according to ProPublica.
According to a Politico report from 2018, Moskowitz also played a significant part in delaying a $16 billion technology contract for the VA, leading to internal strife amongst longtime staffers. Many IT specialists at the VA reportedly felt that the doctor was "out of his league," making objections and recommendations that held the deal up for months. Moskowitz's dysfunctional role in the VA reportedly led in part to the firing of Shulkin in March of 2018.
The three men have jointly denied any allegations of wrongdoing in a statement, saying that "the VA's struggles were no secret."
"From the well-chronicled wait time issues to quality of care concerns, there had been numerous setbacks in providing our veterans with the level of care they deserve. That is why, when the President and the senior leadership at the VA asked for our help, we gladly volunteered our time to do so," they wrote in a statement. "As the emails released show, we were asked repeatedly by former [VA] Secretary [David] Shulkin and his senior staff, as well as by the President, to assist the VA and that is what we sought to do, period."
In 2018, advocacy group VoteVets filed a lawsuit alleging that the VA permitted the trio to violate FACA. The case remains an ongoing dispute, with a federal appeals court in Washington ruling in March of this year that the lawsuit could proceed.