House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano called out Secretary Robert Wilkie for failing to provide documents on the agency’s communication with the trio.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., on Monday called out Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie for not cooperating with a congressional probe into the sway a group of private Trump associates held over agency operations.
On Feb. 8, Takano, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, requested information on the department’s communications with the so-called “Mar-a-Lago crowd,” a trio of informal presidential advisors who allegedly influenced personnel and procurement decisions within the agency.
Wilkie agreed to supply the records by Feb. 22, but according to Takano, the committee has yet to receive any of the documents it requested.
The delay “demonstrates a lack of a good faith effort” by Veterans Affairs officials to comply with the investigation, he wrote in a letter to Wilkie. “The department has stonewalled Congress long enough regarding this matter and others.”
Shortly after missing the deadline, Wilkie asked to meet with Takano to discuss the document request, which will require “a significant expenditure of VA resources, labor and time.” He reaffirmed the agency’s commitment to transparency and said officials will cooperate with the investigation.
Takano extended the deadline for submitting documents to March 8. Veterans Affairs Press Secretary Curt Cashour told Nextgov the department “appreciates the chairman’s views and will respond to him directly.”
A committee spokesperson told Nextgov they’ve started receiving documents from the agency and began reviewing them Wednesday.
The Mar-a-Lago crowd includes Marvel Entertainment Chairman Ike Perlmutter, Florida doctor Bruce Moskowitz and lawyer Marc Sherman. Though none of the members have ever served in the military or government, they’re said to have weighed in heavily on the department’s internal decisions.
An August investigation by ProPublica found the group actively worked to derail a $10 billion deal with Cerner to overhaul the department’s electronic health record system based on personal grievances with the vendor’s software. Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin repeatedly butted heads with the trio over the project, according to the report, and the disagreement was a factor in Shulkin’s ouster last March.
A follow-up investigation found the group also revised the budget for a federal program, weighed in on hiring decisions and edited non-disclosure agreements surrounding the Cerner contract.
In November, the Wall Street Journal also reported Moskowitz actively pushed the agency to strike a deal with Apple to build software that gives vets easier access to their electronic health records. According to the report, Moskowitz went on to recommend the effort be led by his own son, who had developed a similar health record tool.
Though neither would comment on the project at the time, Veterans Affairs and Apple officially announced the partnership earlier this month.
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