US President Donald Trump shakes Ike Perlmutter, CEO of Marvel Entertainment, hand before signing an executive order at the US Department of Veterans Affairs April 27, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
House Democrats on Monday accused three Donald Trump associates — including billionaire Marvel Entertainment Chairman Ike Perlmutter — of breaking the law as they used their connection to the former president’s private golf club to shape veterans’ policies for their own benefit.
Perlmutter, attorney Marc Sherman and doctor Bruce Moskowitz — known as the “Mar-a-Lago Trio” — refused to comply with a federal transparency law while secretly influencing the Department of Veterans Affairs during the Trump administration, two Democratic committee chairs said in a press release.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, were aware of those efforts, the Democrats alleged, citing newly released documents that include emails from Ivanka’s personal account.
“Bolstered” by their links to Mar-a-Lago, the three men “violated the law and sought to exert improper influence over government officials to further their own personal interests,” said Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., in a press release.
“The documents we are releasing today shed light on the secret role the Trio played in developing VA initiatives and programs, including a ‘hugely profitable’ plan to monetize veterans’ medical records,” Maloney and Takano said.
They accused the trio of violating transparency rules established by the Federal Advisory Committee Act, or FACA.
“The VA’s struggles were no secret,” the three men said in a joint statement sent to CNBC by a representative for Perlmutter.
“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.”
“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,” the statement said.
Steve Bannon (L), senior counselor to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, walks with physician Dr. Bruce Moskowitz (R) as they arrive to attend a meeting between Trump and health care leaders at the Mar-a-lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. December 28, 2016.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
A spokesman for the Department of Justice did not immediately respond when asked if the agency would investigate the Democrats’ allegations.
ProPublica in August 2018 published an investigation accusing Perlmutter, Sherman and Moskowitz of pushing VA officials toward certain policies with no accountability or oversight and that remained hidden to all but a few agency insiders.
Takano in 2019 announced an investigation and asked then-VA Secretary Robert Wilkie for materials related to the three men.
Before his inauguration in January 2017, Trump said that Perlmutter had been “very, very involved” in plans to “straighten out the VA.” Indeed, documents obtained by the House committees show the three Mar-a-Lago members in early 2017 had formed an advisory committee that aimed to “transform the VA.”
But when told by White House official Reed Cordish that that 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.
Ivanka Trump, using her personal email account, and Kushner also introduced the trio to CEOs Tim Cook of Apple, Alex Gorsky of Johnson & Johnson and CVS Health’s Larry Merlo, the committees said. The three Trump associates, who were communicating on behalf of the federal government, shared their plans for veterans’ health policies with the CEOs.
The trio also worked with then-Secretary Shulkin to give Moskowitz associate Terry Fadem a nonprofit consulting contract, the committees said.
Fadem in a June 2017 email to Moskowitz laid out a proposal for patient data to be “leveraged into hundreds of millions in revenue,” the email showed.
Moskowitz appears to respond that “J&J, CVS, and Apple all wanted the data base” and that “IBM Watson and others are very interested.”
Months earlier, in an email dated March 10, Moskowitz wrote: “For the meeting in Washington they want the VA databank and biobank which will be hugely profitable to them.”
The committees also accused the trio of improperly promoting their personal agendas, citing a June 2017 slideshow from the VA and Johnson & Johnson outlining plans for “working with Marvel to set up a team of celebrity ambassadors” for a public awareness campaign on suicide prevention.
Perlmutter later that year also arranged to have people dressed as Marvel superheroes Captain America and Spider-Man appear on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange as part of the suicide-prevention awareness campaign, the emails showed.
Update: This story was updated to reflect that the representative for Perlmutter declined to be named as they are not an official spokesman for the trio on general matters.