Committee Chairs Release New Documents Showing Mar-a-Lago Trio Violated Transparency Law and Improperly Influenced Veterans Policies Under President Trump
Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Other White House Advisors Were Aware of Efforts to Skirt the Law
Jenni Geurink (Takano) | (202) 819-4684
Nelly Decker (Maloney) | (202) 226-5181
Jenni Geurink (Takano) | (202) 819-4684
Nelly Decker (Maloney) | (202) 226-5181
Washington, D.C. (September 27, 2021)— Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Mark Takano, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, released new documents showing that Ike Perlmutter, Marc Sherman, and Dr. Bruce Moskowitz, associates of former President Trump known as the Mar-a-Lago Trio, violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act and attempted to exert improper influence over government employees and policies involving the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“Our joint investigation found that Ike Perlmutter, Marc Sherman, and Dr. Bruce Moskowitz, 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,” said the Chairs. “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. The Committees’ investigation demonstrates the need for Congress to pass the Federal Advisory Committee Transparency Act, which would ensure the American people know who is providing advice to federal policymakers and would require agencies to disclose whether individuals on advisory committees have conflicts of interest.”
On January 11, 2017, President Trump announced that “we’re gonna set up a — a group” to “straighten out the VA” and help then-VA Secretary nominee David Shulkin implement new policies, including a proposal to monetize veterans’ patient data. President Trump stated that “Ike Perlmutter has been very, very involved.” Mr. Perlmutter, CEO of Marvel Entertainment, was joined by Marc Sherman, Managing Director of the consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal, and Dr. Bruce Moskowitz, the former Chair of the Biomedical Research and Education Foundation.
The Mar-a-Lago Trio continued in their unofficial VA roles until at least July 2018.
The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requires that groups advising the executive branch operate with transparency and a balanced approach. 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.
Documents obtained by the Committees show:
The Mar-a-Lago Trio Formed an “Advisory Committee” But Refused to Comply with Federal Transparency Law
- Documents obtained by the Committees reveal that President Trump formed an advisory committee made up of Ike Perlmutter, Marc Sherman, and Dr. Bruce Moskowitz to “transform the VA.” [p.1]
- In January 2017, days after President Trump took office, Mr. Perlmutter wrote to White House staff following an introduction by Jared Kushner: “It is clear you care about the veterans as much as we do on the Advisory Committee” and that he was excited to have assistance “to help our Advisory Committee improve the VA.” [p. 6-7]
- In February 2017, after meeting with President Trump, Mr. Perlmutter wrote to a group that includes Dr. Moskowitz, then-VA Secretary nominee David Shulkin, and medical center leaders, “As the President asked we can now formally create an official committee.” [p.3]
- In March 2017, Mr. Perlmutter explained to the Deputy Administrator for the U.S. Digital Service that the “very purpose” of the group “is to ensure proper analysis, sharing of best practices, and provide a forum for discussion, debate, and ultimately the strongest collective decisions/recommendations.” [p.15]
- The Trio was informed by multiple federal officials that their work constituted an advisory committee, which is subject to the transparency and balance requirements in FACA.
- On January 25, 2017, the VA Office of General Counsel attorney assigned to work on FACA matters wrote to then-VA Secretary nominee David Shulkin that “it appears FACA may be implicated” by the Trio’s formation. Mr. Shulkin forwarded the email to Dr. Moskowitz the same day. [p.11]
- The Trio was also advised to register as an advisory committee by Assistant to the President Reed Cordish, who wrote in an email to Mr. Perlmutter in April 2017, “to do what you outlined below you will need to form a FACA group” and to “have your attorney reach out to WH Counsel Stefan Passantino (copied) to start that process.” [p.10] Mr. Perlmutter asserted in response, “The good news is that we have been advised that FACA does not apply because we are not a formal group in any way.” [p.9]
- Documents show that President Trump and senior White House officials empowered this group of secret advisors.
- Jared Kushner introduced Mr. Perlmutter to the Deputy Administrator for the U.S. Digital Service on January 19, 2017, the day before President Trump’s inauguration. Mr. Kushner wrote that Mr. Perlmutter “is going to help us fox [sic] the VA. He is someone we trust 100%.” [p.8]
- In April 2017, at President Trump’s direction, a White House aide sent Mr. Perlmutter a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled “Trump’s Promise to Veterans,” with the President’s handwritten note, “Send to Ike.” In response, Mr. Perlmutter wrote that the group was “working as quickly as possible to reform” the VA system. Mr. Perlmutter also wrote to Jared Kushner that “we are on top of almost everything and have the solutions.” [p. 12-13]
- Documents reveal the Trio actively sought to conceal their activities.
- On February 16, 2017, Dr. Bruce Moskowitz wrote to Secretary Shulkin, “I did not want to send email on talking points Ike and I discussed prior to the call with Steve Cohen but will fill you in anytime verbally prior to next Tuesday call. We are still unsure what can be put in emails and what to discuss verbally.” [p.14]
- In March 2021, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found that “allegations suffice to identify the trio as forming an advisory group for purposes of FACA.”
The Trio Exerted Improper Influence While Seeking to Advance “Hugely Profitable” Plan to Monetize Veterans’ Health Data
- Documents obtained by the Committee show that the Trio developed and implemented a range of plans to overhaul the VA and sought to outsource VA functions, including by monetizing VA patient data through the development of a commercial platform for veterans’ medical records. On April 18, 2017, Mr. Perlmutter wrote to President Trump that the Trio was “progressing on evaluating and understanding the vast problems and risks in the VA system and working as quickly as possible to reform them.” [p. 9-12, 34]
- The Trio held discussions on behalf of the federal government with Johnson & Johnson, Apple, and CVS Health after being introduced by Ivanka Trump (utilizing her personal email account) and Jared Kushner to the CEOs of each company—Alex Gorsky, Tim Cook, and Larry Merlo. The Trio engaged these companies on proposals including the development of a platform for veterans’ medical records, efforts to reduce veteran suicides including a joint public awareness campaign, and efforts to expand access to care for veterans by providing veterans service at CVS’ MinuteClinics. [p. 13-23]
- The Trio worked with Secretary Shulkin to award a consulting contract to Terry Fadem, the former president of Dr. Moskowitz’s nonprofit foundation, to explore monetizing VA patient data. Mr. Fadem proposed in an email exchange with Dr. Moskowitz that patient data “be leveraged into hundreds of millions in revenue.” Dr. Moskowitz responded that “J&J, CVS, and Apple all wanted the data base” and that Johnson & Johnson “want[s] the VA databank and biobank which will be hugely profitable to them.” [p. 24-27] According to a presentation prepared by Johnson & Johnson, a next step was to “Work through legal barriers on getting access to VHA EMR [Veterans Health Administration Electronic Medical Records] databases.” [p.33] It is unclear what steps, if any, the VA took to implement this initiative.
- In March 2017, Mr. Perlmutter sent Mr. Kushner an agenda for a meeting with President Trump that included the “Technology Transfer and Economic Benefits of Licensing,” the proposal to monetize veterans’ data. Mr. Kushner responded, “Great — he is excited for your dinner together!” [p.10]
- Documents also show the Trio sought to exert dominance over White House staff charged with implementing policies for veterans.
- In discussing White House staff interactions with Apple to create a platform for veteran medical records, Mr. Perlmutter wrote in an email to Jared Kushner and Reed Cordish in April 2017, “the mere fact that there has been any activity or decision without first coordinating that activity with our team before taking any action is the problem.” [p.2]
- Mr. Perlmutter directed White House employees to cease working on projects overlapping with his group’s efforts. In one email, Mr. Perlmutter wrote, “The expert team that I assembled and is sanctioned by the President will be proceeding with its efforts as planned. All other parallel efforts should stand down.” He went on to say, “Any items that relate to the transformation of the VA must be funneled through and managed by the expert team and should be coordinated with Dr. Moskowitz and Marc Sherman.” [p. 4] Jared Kushner rebuked Mr. Perlmutter, writing, “I really don’t like this tone being taken with someone who is looking to help.” [p.28]
The Trio Inappropriately Promoted Personal Interests
- Documents obtained by the Committees show that the Trio sought to use their roles to promote their personal agendas.
- According to a June 2017 presentation prepared by the VA and Johnson & Johnson, they planned on “working with Marvel to set up a team of celebrity ambassadors” for a public awareness campaign on suicide prevention. [p.8] In October 2017, Mr. Perlmutter, Marvel’s CEO, arranged for Marvel characters to participate in a New York Stock Exchange event for the campaign. Mr. Perlmutter wrote to Secretary Shulkin: “We have arranged to have a costumed character version of Captain America to appear on stage to help ring the bell, and a costumed character version of Spider-Man on the trading floor. We will also have a team on the floor distributing Marvel product to the NYSE employees.” [p.1] On November 8, 2017, the day after the event, Secretary Shulkin told Mr. Perlmutter, “yesterday on the exchange floor was great! Even Spider-Man and captain America had a great time.” [p.3]
- Dr. Moskowitz used his role in the Trio to push the VA to play a larger role in a federal registry for medical devices that was being promoted by Moskowitz’s nonprofit foundation. In February 2017, he wrote to Secretary Shulkin, “Spoke with ip [Ike Perlmutter] he does believe that you should bring this up yourself with the President. Can discuss offline anytime.” [p.4] Following a January 2018 call with Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, Dr. Moskowitz wrote to White House and CMS officials including Administrator Verma that the VA should participate in a meeting on a device registry and stated, “A voluntary not for profit initiative is the way to go.” [p5]
Abuses by Mar-a-Lago Trio Show Need to Strengthen FACA
- Chairwoman Maloney introduced the bipartisan Federal Advisory Committee Transparency Act, which would make advisory committees more transparent and accountable.
- The bill would require that individuals appointed to an advisory committee to provide expert advice comply with conflict of interest and other federal ethics laws.
- The bill would also close loopholes by clarifying that the law applies to advisory subcommittees and that committees established by contractors are subject to the law if formed at the request or direction of an agency.
Chairwoman Maloney and Chairman Takano launched this investigation on February 20, 2020, with document requests to Mr. and Mrs. Perlmutter, Mr. Sherman, and Dr. Moskowitz related to reports that the Trio “exerted significant influence over VA’s policy, personnel, and program decisions.”
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