"On any veterans issue, the first person the president calls is Ike," says a former administration official. If the name Ike doesn't ring a bell, at least in relation to Veterans Affairs, that's appropriate. A ProPublica expose by Isaac Arnsdorf explains he's "reclusive" Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, one third of "a previously unknown triumvirate" that has clandestinely been exerting influence over the VA—never mind that none of them have served in the military or worked in government. Palm Beach doctor Bruce Moskowitz and lawyer Marc Sherman round out the trio, which is referred to within the VA as "the Mar-a-Lago Crowd," as that location serves as their informal HQ. Arnsdorf ran into some walls on the interviewing front: the men, a VA rep, and a White House spokeswoman declined to answer questions.
His reporting is therefore based on hundreds of documents he got using the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with former administration officials. The story he has pieced together is one of significant power: The men have the president's ear and influence over personnel, with those who "were at odds with the Mar-A-Lago crowd," including those in a slew of top positions (secretary, deputy secretary, chief of staff, director of electronic health records modernization), "pushed out or passed over." Arnsdorf alleges that decisions have to be run by them, officials fly to consult with them on taxpayers' dime, and initiatives pushed by the men in some cases have benefited their own interests. Read the full piece for much more on an "arrangement ... without parallel in modern presidential history." (Read more Longform stories.)