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Trump Keeps Insulting Deceased McCain — And Lies About Helping Veterans

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump continued his bizarre vendetta against Vietnam War hero and former Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), despite the fact that he has been dead for seven months. He even went so far as to complain that McCain  who, again, is deceased  did not thank him for helping him get a proper funeral.

But amazingly, complaining that a dead man didn’t thank him might be only Trump’s second most ridiculous attack on McCain this week. He also trashed McCain for supposedly failing to deliver for veterans in the Senate — as opposed to Trump, who boasted about his claim that he created the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to use their health benefits at community providers rather than V.A. hospitals.

“McCain didn’t get the job done for our great vets and the V.A., and they know it,” saidTrump during a visit to an Army tank factory in Lima, Ohio. That’s why, when I had my dispute with him, I had such incredible support from the vets and from the military. The vets were on my side because I got the job done. I got Choice … for many decades, they couldn’t get it done. It was never done. I got it five months ago. I got it done  Choice. Instead of waiting in line  a vet fought for us, fought in these tanks, fought for us.”

This lie, which Trump has told repeatedly, is completely brazen for two reasons. First, Trump did not create the Veterans Choice Program  he just signed a law last year that would streamline the V.A.’s Community Care Program. The Veterans Choice Program itself was created in 2014 as part of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, and signed into law by President Barack Obama. And second, the chief Republican sponsor of that bill in the Senate was … John McCain!

So in other words, Trump is falsely taking credit for creating a veterans program that was actually created by John McCain — and then citing his nonexistent role in creating that program as evidence of how much better he is for veterans than John McCain.

Even Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star, who has perhaps covered Trump’s speeches and documented his falsehoods more than any other journalist, was gobsmacked at the audacity of Trump’s lie:

Trump and McCain feuded for many years, with Trump claiming that McCain wasn’t really a war hero just because he was captured in Vietnam, and McCain criticizing the president’s fitness for office and casting a deciding vote against Trump’s health care repeal agenda in the Senate.

But any reasonable person would have let these petty grudges go — especially after McCain’s passing. The fact that Trump cannot, and even now insists on telling vicious lies about McCain to anyone who will listen, is a national embarrassment.

Congress Pressing Probe Of Mar-A-Lago Influence Peddling

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is broadening its investigation into the growing scandalaround wealthy members of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort who have exerted undue influence on American veterans policy, despite having no official government position and no experience with veterans issues.

Until recently, the scandal centered around three Mar-a-Lago members in particular — but a recent report from ProPublica offered evidence that the problem was even more widespread.

That’s why Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, sent a letter late last week to the Department of Veterans Affairs demanding to know just how deep the corruption goes.

ProPublica reported that a cosmetic dentist with no known experience in government or the military wrote a note on Mar-a-Lago stationary to Trump (whom the dentist affectionately referred to as “King”), advocating for a new committee to partner with the American Dental Association to oversee federal spending related to veterans, Native Americans, and poor children.

Trump not only read the letter, but also apparently ordered his staff to send the letter to the head of the Veterans Affairs department.

In his letter to the VA, Takano demanded any and all documents the department has that indicate influence from Mar-a-Lago. Takano told the department to turn over “any documents or communications on stationary bearing the name, ‘The Mar-a-Lago Club,” as well as any and all “documents or communications sent or received from members or associates of the Mar-a-Lago Club in the possession of the Department.”

Takano wrote that he is alarmed by the volume of influence peddling by wealthy Mar-a-Lago elites “over policy, personnel, and program decisions of the Department of Veterans Affairs.” Trump often spends long weekends at the club he still owns and where members — who must pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to join the club — have intimate access to him and his advisers.

Prior to this new development, Takano was already investigating the so-called “Mar-a-Lago three,” a triumvirate of members who seemed to exert influence over the VA despite having no official position within the government. According to a previous ProPublica investigation, the men — Ike Perlmutter (chairman and CEO of Marvel Entertainment), Bruce Moskowitz (a doctor), and Marc Sherman (an attorney) — reviewed confidential, multi-billion projects on record-keeping, even though none of the men have any relevant experience.

In 2018, voters demanded that Trump and his culture of corruption be held accountable. Takano is heeding that call, and veterans groups are praising the effort.

The committee’s work “is absolutely crucial to getting to the bottom of this, and all veterans should encourage him to continue,” said Jon Soltz, chairman and co-founder of Vote Vets. While Vote Vets has its own lawsuit regarding this matter, Soltz added, “congressional oversight is indispensable.”

Unfortunately, Takano said, rather than cooperate with Congress, the Trump administration “keeps stonewalling our document request.”

“It’s time for transparency — our veterans deserve to know who is making their healthcare decisions,” Takano said.

Published with permission of The American Independent. 

 

Mar-a-Lago Pal Sent Policy Pitch — And Trump Forwarded To VA Chief

In late 2017, on one of President Donald Trump’s retreats to Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, he caught up with an old friend: Albert Hazzouri.

When Hazzouri is not at Mar-a-Lago, he’s a cosmetic dentist in Scranton, Pennsylvania. At a campaign rally there in 2016, Trump gave him a shoutout: “Stand up, Albert. Where the hell are you, Albert? Stand up, Albert. He’s a good golfer, but I’m actually a better golfer than him. Right?”

Shortly after Hazzouri and Trump saw each other in late 2017, Hazzouri followed up with a message, scrawled on Mar-a-Lago stationery. Here’s the letter:

mar-a-lago

In a telephone interview, Hazzouri said he sent the note as a favor to the 163,000-member American Dental Association. He said he had only the vaguest sense of what proposal he was vouching for.

“I’m really not involved in any politics, I’m just a small-time dentist,” he said. “I guess there’s a lot of money spent on veterans’ care and American Native Indians’ care, and I guess they wanted to have a little hand in it, the American Dental Association, to try to guide what’s going on or whatever.”

The idea seemed to intrigue Trump. He took a thick marker and wrote on top of Hazzouri’s note, “Send to David S at the V.A.,” referring to David Shulkin, then the secretary of veterans affairs. Next to the Mar-a-Lago coat of arms, an aide stamped: “The president has seen.”

It was not the first time Mar-a-Lago membership had bestowed access to the VA. As ProPublica revealed last year, Trump handed sweeping influence over the department to club member Ike Perlmutter, who is the chairman of Marvel Entertainment and was a major donor supporting Trump’s campaign, along with a physician and a lawyer who are regular guests at the resort. The trio, known as the “Mar-a-Lago Crowd,” acted as a shadow leadership for the department, reviewing all manner of policy and personnel decisions, including budgeting and contracting. The House veterans committee is now investigating the trio’s “alleged improper influence.”

Beyond the VA, Trump’s presidency has been rife with examples of special interests seeking influence through business associates or friends and family, rather than going through the normal channels. Shortly after the election, the Australian ambassador reportedly managed to contact Trump not through the State Department but thanks to golfer Greg Norman, and Trump’s post-election call with the Vietnamese premier was facilitated by Marc Kasowitz, a personal lawyer for Trump. Mega-donor Sheldon Adelson helped a friend’s obscure company secure a research deal with the Environmental Protection Agency, and inaugural chairman Tom Barrack provided support to a company seeking to export nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia.

In Hazzouri’s case, the details of his pitch to “create an oversight committee” are murky. A spokeswoman for the American Dental Association, Katherine Merullo, declined to elaborate on the proposal. Michael Graham, who heads the ADA’s lobbying arm in Washington, recalled that one of his staffers raised the topic with Hazzouri, but Graham said he didn’t know the details. In general, Graham said, the organization wants the government to pay for more dental services.

“The ADA has been looking into how we can get involved in veterans’ issues,” Graham said. “Lots of vets may not be eligible but need care.”

The VA provides dental care only in limited instances, primarily when veterans have a dental injury related to their service. Many veterans also have Medicare, but that doesn’t cover most dental services either. The ADA has lobbied on bills that would expand dental services for veterans, arguing that better dental care leads to better health overall. Of course, it would also lead to more billable patients for the ADA’s members.

Hazzouri’s overture doesn’t appear to have succeeded. Shulkin, who was fired in March 2018, said in an email that he did not recall having received the message. Hazzouri said neither he nor the ADA ever got a meeting.

Hazzouri did, however, reference the proposal a few months later, in an effort to open an office in Florida.

“My intention is to establish a small office in order to treat the President, his family and visitors who may have dental needs while conducting official business,” Hazzouri wrote to the Florida Board of Dentistry in a February 2018 letter published by Politico. “An additional intention is to have the office serve as a dental delivery site on selected dates for U.S. veterans or children from underserved populations.”

Despite invoking the project as part of a bid to expand his business, Hazzouri said he wasn’t pursuing any personal benefit by pitching the ADA’s proposal to Trump. “I wasn’t doing this for any opportunity,” he said. “There are areas in Florida where they said it would be awesome to donate time.”

Hazzouri’s Florida office never materialized either: According to the minutes of his board hearing, Hazzouri hadn’t completed a required examination and withdrew his application for a license to practice in the state.

Hazzouri declined to explain why his note to Trump addressed him as “King,” calling it an inside joke from long before Trump became president. “I call other people King,” he said. “It’s a very personal thing.”

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

VA Paying Thousands For Top Official’s Cross-Country Commute

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs paid $13,000 over a three-month period for a senior official’s biweekly commute to Washington from his home in California, according to expense reports obtained by ProPublica.

The official, Darin Selnick, is a senior adviser to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and has played a key role in developing the administration’s controversial new rules on referring veterans to private doctors. The proposal, announced last month, has drawn opposition from some lawmakers and veterans groups.

Selnick lived in Washington during a previous stint in the Trump administration, from January 2017 until March or April 2018, earning a $165,000 salary. He rejoined the VA in late October 2018 and started flying to Washington from California for two weeks out of every month, at taxpayer expense.

Selnick’s expenses included $3,885.60 for six round-trip flights in coach, $5,595.46 for 23 nights in hotels and $1,976 for meals, the reports show. The expense reports, which ProPublica obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, cover six trips between Oct. 21, 2018, and Jan. 19, 2019.

“It is unclear to me what role this person has at the VA, and why the VA is paying so much for him to travel back and forth,” House veterans committee chairman Mark Takano said in a statement responding to the expense reports. “The funding allocated to VA should be used efficiently and effectively to provide benefits and health care for our veterans.”

Several top Trump administration officials have faced scrutiny over their travel expenses. Government investigators have reviewed former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s use of private jets, ex-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s first-class flights, and the president’s own getaways to Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Florida.

Like Selnick, outcoming FEMA Administrator Brock Long charged taxpayers for his regular trips home from Washington. Long, who agreed to reimburse the government after an investigation, resigned Wednesday.

There’s a long tradition in Washington of members of Congress and political appointees splitting time between the capital and their home states. Rules about what expenses the government will cover versus what must be paid out of pocket vary widely depending the person’s role and responsibilities.

Selnick’s arrangement might violate the letter, or at least the spirit, of federal regulations, according to Walter Shaub, the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics who has become an outspoken critic of the Trump administration. Ordinarily, an employee in the VA secretary’s office would be based in Washington and therefore not entitled to paid travel to get there. However, the agency could cover Selnick’s travel to Washington if his official work location, or “duty station,” were in California. Then the question would be why an adviser to the secretary belongs 2,700 miles away.

“It starts to look like they set his duty station in California just so he can have free flights,” Shaub said. “It may or may not violate a specific rule, but it would be a management decision that could be called wasteful, and the inspector general would likely fault them for that.”

In the records released to ProPublica, there is a line on Selnick’s travel vouchers that is supposed to specify his duty station, but it was left blank.

Selnick declined to comment. Two top VA press officials, Curt Cashour and Susan Carter, didn’t respond to e-mailed questions.

Former VA Secretary David Shulkin was fired last year after the agency’s inspector general said he misused resources on a trip to Europe. Shulkin disputed the inspector general’s conclusions but agreed to pay back the government.

Trump says he’s “done more for the vets than any president has done.” But he has stirred anxiety over privatizing the agency’s hospital system, and has given sweeping influence over the agency to three associates at Mar-a-Lago.

Selnick has had extensive contact with the Mar-a-Lago trio: Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, West Palm Beach physician Bruce Moskowitz, and lawyer Marc Sherman. In emails obtained by ProPublica last year, Selnick said he valued Moskowitz’s input more than the views of VA experts. Selnick also assisted Moskowitz’s push for the VA and Apple to adapt an app that Moskowitz developed for finding nearby medical services, according to the emails.

Selnick is a prominent critic of the VA’s government-run health system. In between his time in government, he has worked for Concerned Veterans for America, a political group funded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch that has advocated for expanding private care for veterans. In 2016, Selnick signed onto a report that called the VA “seriously broken” with “no efficient path to repair it” and proposed shifting all veterans to the private sector.

“Darin Selnick should not be diverting money from the VA to fund his bicoastal crusade to privatize and destroy the VA,” J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the union representing VA staff, said in a statement. “It’s time for Mr. Selnick to come clean about his shadowy ties to unelected Trump advisers who are trying to dismantle the VA, as well as his cozy deal to commute across the country at taxpayers’ expense.”

Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman have denied seeking to dismantle the VA.

Last year, while working in the White House, Selnick negotiated with lawmakers on legislation to overhaul the VA’s programs for referring veterans to private doctors. Selnick pushed for the VA to establish rules, known as access standards, that would automatically make some veterans eligible for private care.

Selnick then took a leading role in formulating those access standards: He reported directly to WIlkie and sat on an “executive steering committee” in charge of implementing the new legislation, according to an organization chart obtained by ProPublica. But his name disappeared from the chart when the VA provided a version of it to Congress at a December hearing. Selnick has not participated in any briefings with lawmakers or veterans groups.

The access standards that the VA proposed last month are poised to dramatically expand the pool of veterans who could obtain private medical care at government expense. But the agency has offered few details on how many veterans it expects will shift to the private sector or how much that will cost. Key lawmakers from both parties