Reprinted with permission from DailyKos
It's been almost a year since Donald Trump got voted out of office, but that doesn't mean he and his minions can't still make headlines … for the worst reasons. Newly released emails indicate that when Trump ordered three associates from his private club Mar-a-Lago to reorganize the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2017, those associates also tried to persuade the VA to sell veterans' medical records—for profit.
The emails were released as part of a joint congressional investigation that has been going on for at least 19 months. The three men involved have been accused of violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires the transparency of advisory groups. As a result of the investigation, hundreds of email exchanges were released in which the Trump-era advisory team gave orders to officials even though they had no official role in the department. Other emails indicated that Trump was overall pleased with how the trio was handling the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is important to note that none of the men had any experience in the military or in government, according to a 2018 report by ProPublica.
The team was formed on January 11, 2017, because Trump believed "veterans were treated badly." Of course the best way to treat them is to profit off them, right? According to an email released by U.S. lawmakers Monday, the team consisted of Marvel executive Isaac Perlmutter, Washington, D.C.-based lawyer Marc Sherman, and Dr. Bruce Moskowitz, a West Palm Beach, Florida, physician.
According to ProPublica, as the trio began advising the VA on budgeting and contracting issues, they pitched the idea of selling veterans' medical data. According to the outlet, more than nine million veterans get medical care from the department at more than 1,000 facilities nationwide.
"Patient data, in my opinion, is the most valuable asset of the Department of Veterans Affairs," Terry Fadem, a consultant who ran a private nonprofit organization created by Moskowitz said in June 2017, according to one of the emails released by the Oversight and House Commissions and Department of Veterans Affairs. "It can be used for hundreds of millions of revenues."
Moskowitz apparently told David Shulkin, then-secretary of the VA, that talks had taken place with Johnson & Johnson, CVS, and Apple about a potential deal. According to the released emails, Shulkin was open to the plan. Whether or not veterans were asked for consent or signed any contract to sell medical data is not indicated in the documents released.
However, the emails do indicate that the trio wasn't the only group of Trump minions involved. An email dated March 31, 2017 indicates that Trump's daughter Ivanka introduced Perlmutter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky to explore the proposal.
While the emails do not indicate whether Trump himself knew of the plan to sell veterans' patient data, both his daughter and his son-in-law Jared Kushner were involved, according to the emails. An email from Kushner did suggest that Trump was "excited" to meet Perlmutter to discuss his plans for the VA.
The group clearly knew what they were doing was not right. One email indicates that when White House official Reed Cordish said that the group was subject to FACA requirements, Perlmutter responded, "The good news is that we have been advised that FACA does not apply because we are not a formal group in any way," screenshots of their emails show.
According to the House Surveillance Commission and the Veterans' Home Commission, investigations into the trio's behavior began in 2019. "The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requires groups that advise governments to operate with a transparent and balanced approach," the commission said Monday.
"The Mar-a-Lago Trio refused to comply with this law and, with the knowledge of Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump (using a personal email account), and other top White House advisors, hid their efforts to influence VA policies from public view."
The commission added that the group, "bolstered by their connection to President Trump's private Mar-a-Lago club violated the law and sought to exert improper influence over government officials to further their own personal interests." According to the commission, the trio also outlined plans to work with their own companies, including "working with Marvel to set up a team of celebrity ambassadors" for a public awareness campaign on suicide prevention.
While the group was created under the guise of Trump's love and care for veterans, they instead clearly looked to take advantage of the vulnerable population.
"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," the cronies said in a statement.
In a statement to ProPublica, Perlmutter, Sherman, and Moskowitz said: "We were asked repeatedly by former Secretary Shulkin and his senior staff, as well as by the President, to assist the VA and that is what we sought to do, period."
A spokesperson for the group maintained that it was not their responsibility to follow FACA regulations. Despite this, in March 2021 a federal appeals court in Washington held that a liberal veterans group could proceed with a lawsuit to enforce FACA's disclosure requirements around the Mar-a-Lago trio.
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