Two groups sue VA over key documents related to 'Mar-a-Lago crowd'

Matt Saintsing
October 11, 2018 - 3:18 pm

Photo by Xinhua/Wang Ying

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A federal lawsuit was filed against the VA on Thursday by two progressive advocacy groups who say the Department is withholding key documents over the ‘Mar-a-Lago crowd’, a trio of three businessesmen who are said to have vast influence over the agency.

Democracy Forward and VoteVets filed the lawsuit in Washington, D.C. The groups allege the VA is unduly withholding communications from Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, attorney Marc Sherman, and Bruce Moskowitz, a Palm Beach physician.

“The Administration’s decision to outsource decision-making on issues that affect veterans’ lives is deeply troubling, especially when this authority is secretly shifted to patrons of the President’s resort, “said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy.

"First, the Trump Administration unlawfully ceded VA policy making to a shadow council of the President’s golf buddies, and now it is unlawfully holding back records detailing the full extent of the Mar-a-Lago Council’s influence."

A bombshell ProPublica report in August accuses the three members of President Trump’s exclusive Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida as exerting undue power over crucial veterans policy decisions. None of the men hold any official government title, or have experience crafting and implementing federal policy. 

In September, both VoteVets and Democracy Forward filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to see just how much influence the three men had over VA. Based on the complaint filed Thursday, the Department has recieved the FOIA request, but has yet to produce any documents. 

This leaves open a question that has consistently plagued this Administration: What exactly are President Trump and his cronies trying to hide?," Harkavy added. 

House Democrats requested all correspondence between the Florida trio and VA officials in August, but VA Secretary Robert Wilkie declined due to “ongoing litigation alleging violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.” 

“If they did nothing wrong, they wouldn’t hide behind this excuse to withhold documents from Congress, illegally," said Will Fischer, Director of Government Relations for VoteVets. "This administration continually plays these games with the VA, and that hurts all veterans. It’s time for them to come clean. If they refuse, we’ll force them. Veterans deserve nothing less.”

Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), incensed over the issue, slammed the move as “an attempt to stonewall not only a member of Congress but the American public.”

Photo by Xinhua/Sipa USA

In September, Wilkie told a Senate panel that he met with the troika once, just after he was sworn in and assured senators the men have no official role at the Department. 

But Walz isn’t buying it. 

“We have received nothing from VA except excuses,” the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee said in a statement. “The reports of corruption and cronyism are serious, and we cannot allow VA to sweep this under the rug.” 

He added that the issue “will remain a top concern of the committee until all our question have been answered.”

Walz wants the documents to be released by Oct. 31. 

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