We previously highlighted the close relationship between President Donald Trump and Marvel Entertainment CEO Isaac Perlmutter. Perlmutter donated $1 million to Trump during his presidential campaign in 2016, and was subsequently named to his Inauguration committee, as well as an advisor on veteran affairs,
Now, a new investigation published by ProPublica uncovers just how involved Perlmutter has become in the Department of Veteran Affairs — despite having no U.S. military experience nor a confirmation vote from Congress.
According to ProPublica, Perlmutter is one of three wealthy members of Trump’s Florida getaway, Mar-A-Lago, who are actively shaping policies affecting millions of American veterans. Internal documents obtained by ProPublica show Perlmutter involved in “all manner of policy and personnel decisions” related to the VA, and has gone as far to give specific directives to government officials. Those officials who did not follow through on those directives were reportedly shown the door — such was the case for the VA’s former secretary, deputy secretary, chief of staff, acting under secretary for health, deputy under secretary for health, chief information officer, and the director of electronic health records modernization.
“The Mar-a-Lago Crowd bombarded VA officials with demands, many of them inapt or unhelpful. On phone calls with VA officials, Perlmutter would bark at them to move faster, having no patience for bureaucratic explanations about why something has to be done a certain way or take a certain amount of time, former officials said. He issued orders in a thick, Israeli-accented English that can be hard to understand.”
Perlmutter is a native of Israel, who served in the Israeli Army during the Six-Day War of 1967. He later moved to the U.S., where he became a successful entrepreneur. When Marvel went bankrupt in 1996, he established control over the company, eventually ascending to the ranks of vice chairman, and then chief executive officer, a position he maintains as of today. He has made veterans affairs a charitable focus.
Beyond the questions surrounding Perlmutter’s qualifications, his involvement in the VA also raises ethical concerns. Already, there is one documented instance in which the development of a public awareness campaign about veteran suicide turned into a promotional opportunity for Marvel.
Again, per ProPublica:
“Besides advocating for friends’ interests, some of the Mar-a-Lago Crowd’s interventions served their own purposes. Starting in February 2017, Perlmutter convened a series of conference calls with executives at Johnson & Johnson, leading to the development of a public awareness campaign about veteran suicide. They planned to promote the campaign by ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange around the time of Veterans Day.
The event also turned into a promotional opportunity for Perlmutter’s company. Executives from Marvel and its parent company, Disney, joined Johnson & Johnson as sponsors of the Veterans Day event at the stock exchange. [Former VA secretary David] Shulkin rang the closing bell standing near a preening and flexing Captain America, with Spider-Man waving from the trading pit, and Marvel swag distributed to some of the attendees. ‘Generally the VA secretary or defense secretary don’t shill for companies,’ the leader of a veterans advocacy group said.”
ProPublica says the arrangement between Trump and his Mar-A-Lago advisors “is without parallel in modern presidential history. The Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972 provides a mechanism for agencies to consult panels of outside advisers, but such committees are subject to cost controls, public disclosure and government oversight. Other presidents have relied on unofficial ‘kitchen cabinets,’ but never before have outside advisers been so specifically assigned to one agency.”
In a statement, Perlmutter and Trump’s other Mar-A-Lago advisors downplayed their involvement in the VA, saying: “At all times, we offered our help and advice on a voluntary basis, seeking nothing at all in return. While we were always willing to share our thoughts, we did not make or implement any type of policy, possess any authority over agency decisions, or direct government officials to take any actions… To the extent anyone thought our role was anything other than that, we don’t believe it was the result of anything we said or did.”
Though he maintains his role as CEO of Marvel Entertainment, Perlmutter stopped overseeing the development of Marvel Studios in 2015. Disney reportedly made the change after studio head Kevin Feige voiced frustration over working with Perlmutter, as well as some of Perlmutter’s alleged controversial comments and actions, such as replacing the casting of Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle because black people “look the same.”