House Democrats open investigation of Trump associates' influence at VA

Democrats on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee have reportedly opened an investigation into whether three associates of President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE, including a Mar-a-Lago club member, influenced hiring decisions at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Committee Chairman Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Impeachment inquiry overshadows Trump at UN | Veterans push VA to follow through on reforms | Iranian leader open to changes in nuke deal Veterans groups push VA to follow through on reforms Democrat Raul Ruiz challenged by Republican with the same name in California race MORE (D-Calif.) sent a letter Friday to the VA announcing the investigation and requesting information on correspondence top VA officials had with former Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, physician Dr. Bruce Moskowitz and lawyer Marc Sherman.

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Of the three, just Perlmutter is a Mar-a-Lago member, while The Wall Street Journal reports that Moskowitz retains "privileges" at the Florida resort.

“The Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is opening an investigation into this relationship so that Congress, veterans, and the American people can better understand the scope and nature of this relationship between the Department and these individuals who have not served in the U.S. military nor U.S. government, and are not accountable to veterans and the American people,” the congressman wrote.

“Government officials and private individuals who seek to use the Department for personal enrichment, or who make poor decisions that waste taxpayer dollars or negatively affect the delivery of veterans’ healthcare and benefits must held to account,” Takano continued. 

White House officials didn't immediately return requests for comment Friday from The Hill. A representative for the three men told The Wall Street Journal that they are innocent of accusations of improper influence, and are willing to cooperate with officials.

“Our only goal was to help improve veterans care,” the men told the Journal in a joint statement. “We didn’t seek or receive any personal or financial gain. We never imagined that volunteering our personal time to improving veterans’ health care would open us up to criticism.”

Their influence with Dr. David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinVA under pressure to ease medical marijuana rules Press: Acosta, latest to walk the plank Senior Trump administration official to leave post next week MORE, President Trump's former VA chief, extended to Shulkin creating a private email account solely for contacting the three men, according to emails obtained by the Journal.

“Dear Friends—I have set up a new email address just for our secure communication on issues in the future,” Shulkin wrote.

The three men contended to the Journal that they held no power over decisionmaking at the VA, and never offered consensus on decisions made by the agency. Rather, they argue, their purpose was to provide Shulkin with advice when necessary.

“We never sought to exert influence over anyone at the VA. That wasn’t our purpose,” the men said in the joint statement, according to the Journal. Shulkin's role, they wrote, was to “make independent judgments to consider our advice when appropriate and reject it when it wasn’t.”