Wilkie vows no 'inappropriate influence' at VA

Wilkie vows no 'inappropriate influence' at VA
© Greg Nash

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Wednesday vowed that there will be no "inappropriate" outside influence at the agency under his watch. 

Wilkie told a Senate panel that he is unaware of any ongoing contact between VA officials and a trio of high profile men known as the “Mar-a-Lago Crowd” who were reportedly helping to shape agency policy.

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"I met with them once for an hour in Palm Beach the first week I was acting. I’ve had no connection with them since then," Wilkie said in response to a question from Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenate Democrats introduce legislation to probe politicization of pandemic response Trump health officials grilled over reports of politics in COVID-19 response CDC director pushes back on Caputo claim of 'resistance unit' at agency MORE (D-Wash.) during a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing.

The role of the informal council came to light in an August report by ProPublica, which obtained hundreds of documents that showed Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, Palm Beach doctor Bruce Moskowitz and attorney Marc Sherman communicated daily with VA officials about personnel and policy decisions.

All three men have ties to President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE's Mar-a-Lago golf club.

"We need to see steps taken to correct that right away," Murray said. "It’s entirely unacceptable to put those people's interests before what's in the best interests of our veterans."

Wilkie said he agreed with Murray about outside influence, and noted he was not in charge of the agency at the time most of the reported meetings took place.

"I am committed to making sure that I am the sole person responsible to you," Wilkie said.

The VA has been a focus of President Trump's, as he has repeatedly promised to deliver improved care for veterans.

However, the agency has already undergone multiple leadership changes during the Trump administration and been a source of reported dysfunction.