More Examples of Personal Email Use and Heavy-Handed Outside Influence at the VA

New documents obtained by American Oversight provide further examples of the influence that outside groups and individuals — specifically, three members of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort as well as the Koch-funded Concerned Veterans for America — have exerted on the nation’s veterans policy.

According to extensive reporting by ProPublica and documents obtained by American Oversight, three private associates of the president — Ike Perlmutter, Bruce Moskowitz, and Marc Sherman — have acted with the authority of high-ranking officials without holding any government positions. Documents obtained in response to our Freedom of Information Act litigation include a number of emails between top VA officials and the trio.

In March 2018, VA officials had exchanged logistical emails regarding plans for then-VA Secretary David Shulkin to travel to Mar-a-Lago to meet with the three men, though the meeting was later canceled. As we reported in May, not only was the former VA secretary a frequent communicator with Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman; he also used personal email to contact them, suggesting that the full extent of the trio’s involvement in VA policymaking may not yet have come to light. The documents recently obtained by American Oversight include another occasion in which Shulkin used his Gmail account for official business. But while Shulkin had forwarded work emails to a VA account in some of the previous instances we uncovered, in this case he failed to forward the messages to his official account as required.

Subjects of significant discussion among the trio and VA officials were the creation of a new medical device registry as well as an overhaul of the department’s electronic health records system, which involved the VA’s Electronic Health Record Modernization initiative (EHR). In March 2018, Moskowitz, a Palm Beach doctor, emailed VA officials about a call: “I want to make sure we are all in agreement of how this is structured. Marc [Sherman] and I want to be on every call that the group is on to discuss the contract.”

A week after that email, VA official Scott Blackburn thanked Moskowitz and Sherman “for introducing us to all the experts we talked to last night,” and inviting them to participate in a call the next day. A couple of days later, Sherman, a lawyer, sent a message to Blackburn, copying Moskowitz and Shulkin, providing his thoughts about recent calls. “I am sorry to be so harsh in my opinions,” he wrote.

The influence of the Mar-a-Lago members seems to have risen to a level where they were even considered for official or quasi-official status within the administration. “I will tell them that Bruce [Moskowitz] is an advisor and extension of the WH/VA team,” wrote Blackburn to Shulkin in late 2017 before a call with CIOs. And in April 2018, Blackburn emailed VA official Camilo Sandoval to ask whether Sherman would consider being a “Special Government Employee.”

After Shulkin was fired in late March 2018, Politico reported that “Moskowitz’s involvement was one of the irritants in Shulkin’s dealings with other White House-appointed officials.” Politico’s report, published in April 2018, was criticized in an email from Sandoval as being “based on inaccurate reporting … fueled by David Shulkin and Scott Blackburn.” Attached to the email were Perlmutter’s, Moskowitz’s and Sherman’s non-disclosure agreements. 

According to the Washington Post, Shulkin’s firing also “underscore[d] the growing clout” that the organization Concerned Veterans for America, which pushes for privatization of veterans health care, was “wielding in the Trump era.” Previously uncovered records revealed numerous emails and meetings between CVA representatives and top VA officials, some of whom had previously worked for CVA. (One such official, senior adviser Darin Selnick, was the subject of a ProPublica story in February about his three-month, $13,000 tab, paid for by the VA, for his twice-a-month commute from California to Washington, D.C.)

American Oversight previously reported on CVA’s close involvement in VA policymaking, as evidenced in questionable redactions (which the department eventually lifted) and even in the organization’s representatives landing the best seats at official meetings. The new documents include the seating chart of an Aug. 21, 2018, breakfast for veterans service organizations (VSOs) — once again, the CVA representative was seated across the table from VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

In many of the CVA-related documents American Oversight obtained, the VA had redacted content using an exemption that is reserved for deliberations among agency employees or internal consultants. The department eventually lifted these redactions, but the initial use of the exemption shows the extent to which CVA has been on an inside track within the administration.

The new documents provide further examples of this, with the VA having now lifted more improper redactions. This time it’s over emails from the Mar-a-Lago trio, making it clear that the agency continues to rely on outside entities when it comes to making its “internal deliberations.”

It is essential that VA policy decisions are driven by the best interests of veterans — not lobbyists or special interests. We will continue to investigate the role that outside groups and Trump associates have in shaping our nation’s veterans policy.

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April 24, 2020

News Roundup: Miracle Drugs and Trump’s Alternate Reality

Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Veterans Affairs, DHS - Federal Emergency Management Agency, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Prisons, Florida Department of Corrections, General Services Administration, Georgia - Albany-Dougherty County, Georgia - Chatham County, Georgia - Cobb County, Georgia - DeKalb County, Georgia - Fulton County, Georgia - Gwinnett County, Georgia - Macon-Bibb County, Georgia - Muscogee County, Georgia - Richmond County, Georgia Department of Community Health, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, HHS - National Institutes of Health, Illinois - Cook County, Texas Health and Human Services, USDA - Food Safety and Inspection Service, VA - Veterans Health Administration, Washington - King County, White House - Office of Management and Budget, White House - Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
April 23, 2020

An Update on American Oversight’s Coronavirus Investigation: New Lawsuits and Requests

Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Treasury, DHS - Federal Emergency Management Agency, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Treasury - Internal Revenue Service, USDA - Food Safety and Inspection Service
April 17, 2020

News Roundup: Who Stands to Gain?

Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Reserve, Florida, Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, Florida Department of Health, Florida Division of Emergency Management, Florida Office of the Governor, Georgia - Tybee Island City, Georgia Department of Administrative Services, Georgia Department of Public Health, Georgia Office of the Governor, Georgia Secretary of State, Small Business Administration, Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs, Wisconsin Senate, Wisconsin State Assembly
April 10, 2020

News Roundup: Corruption and Coronavirus

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of the Treasury, DHS - Federal Emergency Management Agency, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DHS - United States Secret Service, DOD - U.S. Department of the Navy, DOJ - Executive Office for Immigration Review, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - Justice Management Division, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, DOJ - Office of Legal Counsel, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, HHS - Indian Health Service, Nevada Department of Administration, Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, U.S. Agency for International Development
April 10, 2020

American Oversight Sues for Coronavirus-Related Records

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Food and Drug Administration
April 3, 2020

News Roundup: Whose Stockpile, and Which States?

California Office of the Governor, Central Intelligence Agency, Commerce - Bureau of Industry and Security, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, DHS - Federal Emergency Management Agency, Florida - Broward County, Florida - Duval County, Florida - Gadsden County, Florida - Hendry County, Florida - Jackson County, Florida - Leon County, Florida - Miami-Dade County, Florida - Osceola County, Florida Office of the Governor, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, New York Office of the Governor, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Ohio Office of the Governor, Oklahoma Department of Health, Oklahoma Office of the Governor, Texas Attorney General, Texas Office of the Governor, Washington - King County, Washington Office of the Governor, White House - Office of Management and Budget
March 30, 2020

‘We Are Flying Blind’: Health Officials’ Late February Emails Show Rising Coronavirus Concerns

Washington - King County
March 28, 2020

A Pandemic Is No Time for Secrecy

March 27, 2020

News Roundup: Transparency and Oversight Are More Important Than Ever

Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DOJ - Executive Office for Immigration Review, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - National Security Division, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Election Commission, Florida Attorney General, Florida Department of State, Florida Office of the Governor, General Services Administration, Georgia - Bartow County, Georgia - Cobb County, Georgia - DeKalb County, Georgia - Fulton County, Georgia - Gwinnett County, Georgia Office of the Governor, Georgia Secretary of State, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Office of Personnel Management, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Tennessee Valley Authority, Texas Attorney General, Texas Office of the Governor, Texas Secretary of State, White House - Office of Management and Budget, White House - Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
March 24, 2020

We Cannot Let Trump Use a National Emergency to Get Rich and Ignore the Constitution

Congress, White House
March 23, 2020

CDC Calendars from 2018 and 2019: Pandemic-Related Briefings and Meetings

HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
March 20, 2020

News Roundup: Testing, Messaging and Missed Chances

Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, Federal Communications Commission, Florida Attorney General, Georgia Attorney General, Nevada Department of Administration, Texas - Harris County, Texas Attorney General, White House - Office of Management and Budget, White House - Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
March 20, 2020

An Update on American Oversight’s Coronavirus Investigation

Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, DHS - Federal Emergency Management Agency, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Prisons, Federal Reserve, HHS - Administration for Children and Families, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, HHS - National Institutes of Health, New York Office of the Governor, New York State Department of Health, Texas Department of State Health Services, U.S. Agency for International Development, Washington - King County, Washington State Department of Health, White House - Office of Management and Budget, Wisconsin Department of Health Services
March 13, 2020

News Roundup: Continuing Our Investigation of Coronavirus Response

Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Federal Reserve, Georgia Secretary of State, Texas Secretary of State, Washington State Department of Health, Wisconsin
March 6, 2020

News Roundup: Rising Coronavirus Fears and Sinking Public Trust

Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, DHS - Federal Emergency Management Agency, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DOI - Bureau of Land Management, DOJ - Criminal Division, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, Federal Reserve, Georgia - Cobb County, Georgia - Gwinnett County, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia Department of Driver Services, Georgia Secretary of State, HHS - Administration for Children and Families, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, HHS - National Institutes of Health, Texas - Briscoe County, Texas - Freestone County, Texas - Hall County, Texas - Hill County, Texas - Hood County, Texas - Jones County, Texas - Kendall County, Texas - Lavaca County, Texas - Leon County, Texas - Limestone County, Texas - Loving County, Texas - Morris County, Texas - Scurry County, Texas - Starr County, Texas - Swisher County, Texas - Victoria County, Texas Secretary of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, VA - Veterans Health Administration, Washington - King County, Washington State Department of Health, White House - Office of Management and Budget, White House - Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
March 2, 2020

In the Documents: Read the Script for an HHS Anti-Obamacare Ad That Was Apparently Never Released

Department of Health and Human Services
February 28, 2020

News Roundup: Launching Our Investigation of Trump’s Authoritarian Purges

Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State, DOD - National Security Agency, DOI - Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, Florida - Hillsborough County, Florida - Leon County, Florida Department of State, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
February 21, 2020

News Roundup: The Post-Impeachment Purge and the Knock of Authoritarianism

Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, DHS - United States Secret Service, DOI - Fish and Wildlife Service, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, White House - Office of Management and Budget
February 14, 2020

News Roundup: Trump Has Learned His ‘Lesson’

Central Intelligence Agency, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, Federal Reserve, Florida House of Representatives, Florida Senate, Georgia - Cobb County, Georgia - DeKalb County, Georgia - Fulton County, Georgia - Gwinnett County, Georgia Secretary of State, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Kentucky Office of the Governor, U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Wisconsin Senate, Wisconsin State Assembly
January 17, 2020

News Roundup: The Evidence Continues to Mount

Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Department of State, Environmental Protection Agency, Georgia - Clayton County, Georgia - Hancock County, Georgia - Jefferson County, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services
September 6, 2019

News Roundup: Trump’s Enthusiastic Support for New Drug Raises Questions

Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, Environmental Protection Agency, Georgia Department of Driver Services, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, Securities and Exchange Commission, Texas Attorney General, White House - Council on Environmental Quality
August 27, 2019

Investigating HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s Connections to Pharmaceutical Companies

Department of Health and Human Services
June 4, 2019

Documents Reveal Extent of Koch-Funded VA Privatization Group’s Influence

Department of Veterans Affairs
May 30, 2019

Trump Administration Appeals Court Decision Ordering It to Turn Over Communications with Congress About ACA Sabotage

Congress, Department of Health and Human Services, White House - Office of Management and Budget
April 2, 2019

Federal Judge Rejects Administration’s Argument for Withholding Communications with Congress about ACA Sabotage

Department of Health and Human Services, White House - Office of Management and Budget
March 8, 2019

Watchdogs Sue HHS Following Women’s Health Website Overhaul

Department of Health and Human Services
March 1, 2019

HHS Secretary Azar Calendars Show Multiple Meetings with Conservative Health-Care Groups

Department of Health and Human Services
February 21, 2019

New Lawsuit Seeks HHS Communications with Anti-Abortion Groups

Department of Health and Human Services
March 9, 2018

American Oversight Sues HHS and CMS for Verma Ethics Records

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services
October 17, 2017

Health Care Lawsuit: Fighting for Transparency

Department of Health and Human Services, White House - Office of Management and Budget
September 15, 2017

Congress Enters Legal Fight to Block Release of Obamacare Repeal Emails

Congress, Department of Health and Human Services
September 13, 2017

“News to Me!” – Inside the Health Care Emails

White House - Office of Management and Budget
September 7, 2017

Third Set of Health Care Emails Again Shows Trump Administration Effort to Hide Negotiations

Department of Health and Human Services, White House - Office of Management and Budget
August 2, 2017

New Health Care Documents Show Effort to Hide Details of Negotiations

Department of Health and Human Services, White House - Office of Management and Budget
July 20, 2017

American Oversight Sues HHS and OMB For Secret Trump Letter Outlining Plan to Weaken Obamacare

Department of Health and Human Services, White House, White House - Office of Management and Budget
May 4, 2017

Watchdog Files Lawsuit, Seeks Injunction for HHS, OMB Health Care Negotiation Record

Department of Health and Human Services, White House - Office of Management and Budget
March 23, 2017

American Oversight Demands Release of Secret Health Care Negotiations

Department of Health and Human Services, White House - Office of Management and Budget