How Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter and two other Mar-a-Lago cronies are secretly shaping the Trump administration’s veterans policies.
.. shortly after Peter O’Rourke became chief of staff for the Department of Veterans Affairs, he received an email from Bruce Moskowitz with his input on a new mental health initiative for the VA.
.. an informal council that is exerting sweeping influence on the VA from Mar-a-Lago
.. The troika is led by Ike Perlmutter, the reclusive chairman of Marvel Entertainment, who is a longtime acquaintance of President Trump’s. The third member is a lawyer named Marc Sherman. None of them has ever served in the U.S. military or government.
.. They have remained hidden except to a few VA insiders, who have come to call them “the Mar-a-Lago Crowd.”
.. they downplayed their influence, insisting that nobody is obligated to act on their counsel.
.. The Mar-a-Lago Crowd spoke with VA officials daily, the documents show, reviewing all manner of policy and personnel decisions. They prodded the VA to start new programs, and officials travelled to Mar-a-Lago at taxpayer expense to hear their views. “Everyone has to go down and kiss the ring,” a former administration official said.
.. If the bureaucracy resists the trio’s wishes, Perlmutter has a powerful ally: The President of the United States. Trump and Perlmutter regularly talk on the phone and dine together when the president visits Mar-a-Lago. “On any veterans issue, the first person the president calls is Ike,”
.. VA leaders who were at odds with the Mar-A-Lago Crowd were pushed out or passed over.
.. Offering more private healthcare to vets was a signature promise of Trump’s campaign, but at that point he hadn’t decided who should lead an effort that would reverse the VA’s longstanding practices.
.. Perlmutter then recommended Shulkin to Trump
.. Once nominated, Shulkin flew to Mar-a-Lago in early February 2017 to meet with Perlmutter, Sherman and Moskowitz.
.. Moskowitz elaborated on the terms of their relationship. “We do not need to meet in person monthly, but meet face to face only when necessary,” he wrote. “We will set up phone conference calls at a convenient time.”
.. Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman acted like board members pounding a CEO to turn around a struggling company
.. “Everything needs to be run by them,” the first former official said, recalling the process. “They view themselves as making the decisions.”
.. They planned to promote the campaign by ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange around the time of Veterans Day.
The event also turned into a promotional opportunity for Perlmutter’s company. Executives from Marvel and its parent company, Disney, joined Johnson & Johnson as sponsors of the Veterans Day event at the stock exchange.
.. The Mar-a-Lago Crowd grew frustrated with Shulkin, feeling like he wasn’t listening to them, and Perlmutter came to regret recommending Shulkin to Trump in the first place
.. Trump initially nominated White House doctor Ronny Jackson to replace Shulkin, with Pentagon official Robert Wilkie filling in on a temporary basis. On Wilkie’s first day at the VA, Sherman was waiting for him in his office, according to a calendar record.
Within a few weeks, Wilkie made a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago.
Tom Bossert is leaving as homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, an abrupt departure that comes as President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser moves to establish power.
.. Mr. Bossert’s position was on the same level as that of John Bolton, who just began as national security adviser on Monday. His departure also came days after Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council, resigned
.. Mr. Bossert came into the job with high praise from lawmakers from both parties. But after he took the job, current and former staffers at the National Security Council said he repeatedly clashed with former national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, and they said Mr. Bossert failed to develop a cyberstrategy or a counterterrorism policy as planned.
.. Mr. Bossert’s departure is likely to empower Mr. Bolton
.. Mr. Bossert’s departure was a sign that Mr. Bolton was quickly moving to consolidate power.
.. “This is an assertion of the primacy of the national security adviser,” the person said.
Shulkin told The Washington Post on Friday, as he told CNN on Sunday, that he did not resign and was instead fired after being undermined by political appointees.
.. “I don’t think that this was the president,” Shulkin told Tapper. “The president is committed to improving the care for veterans. These appointees had a belief that there was a different way to do that than I did … these individuals, when they didn’t see that their way was being adopted, used subversive techniques to change the leadership at VA.”
Shulkin’s description of what happened clashes with that of the Trump administration. On Friday, Shulkin told The Post that he was told by White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly that he was being pushed out. But Saturday, deputy White House press secretary Lindsay Walters told Politico that “Secretary Shulkin resigned from his position as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.” Asked on Sunday about Shulkin’s description of what happened, Walters repeated that statement.
.. The questions about Shulkin’s removal may well end up in court. Democrats, who, like Shulkin, believe that the Trump administration is attempting to elevate people who favor privatizing VA’s services, could sue over any major decisions made by Wilkie, arguing that the 1998 law on vacancies does not apply when appointees are fired.
Many executive officials seem okay with spending public money on personal expenses, but how would they react if Hillary Clinton were doing it?
.. But if ever there were a crew less suited to drain the swamp in Washington, the Trump team would have to be it.
.. Remember Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price? You may not, since his tenure was less than nine months long. But in that time, according to Politico, he ran up $400,000 in private-plane trips and $500,000 for military flights to Asia, Africa, and Europe.
.. There were also questions raised about his private investment in a company that stood to benefit from his public action.
.. Steven Mnuchin and his wife Louise Linton jetted off to Kentucky last August on a government plane to (depending upon whom you believe): do Treasury business or view the solar eclipse.
.. The couple also apparently requested a military plane for their honeymoon trip to Europe.
.. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin also took his wife to Europe for a ten-day trip.
.. Environment Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, reports the Washington Post, is also being investigated for “at least four noncommercial and military flights
.. I find it hard to think of an EPA emergency that would require Scott Pruitt to fly on a military jet
.. the complicated web of loans and investments and connections Jared Kushner brought with him to the swamp
.. one of the reasons his security clearance was downgraded this week involved accepting loans from a private equity billionaire named Joshua Harris.