President Trump is not a hard man to influence. Extreme, unrelenting flattery is pretty much all it takes to get his ear (see: Fox News). A Mar-a-Lago membership also does wonders. Trump’s for-profit club in Palm Beach, Florida, has been a hotbed of bizarre conflict of interest scandals since the president took office, most notable among them the revelation from ProPublica last year that Trump essentially handed over control of the office of veteran affairs to a club member and two frequent guests with no qualifications.
On Wednesday, ProPublica dropped another VA-related scoop regarding a club member that has no business influencing public policy. In 2017, a Pennsylvania-based cosmetic surgeon and Mar-a-Lago member named Albert Hazzouri wrote Trump a letter about federal money being used for veterans’ dental care.
He began the letter by referring to Trump as “king” and closed with “Love you President.” Trump had it sent to VA Secretary David Shulkin.
This is a letter that dentist Albert Hazzouri wrote to the prez after they caught up at Mar-a-Lago in 2017, suggesting the creation of an oversight committee w/ @AmerDentalAssn over federal spending on dental care.
— ProPublica (@ProPublica) March 6, 2019
When ProPublica called Hazzouri to ask him about the letter, Hazzouri made it clear that he barely even understood what he was asking. He just wanted to do the ADA a solid, he claims. “I’m really not involved in any politics, I’m just a small-time dentist,” he said. “I guess there’s a lot of money spent on veterans’ care and American Native Indians’ care, and I guess they wanted to have a little hand in it, the American Dental Association, to try to guide what’s going on or whatever.”
As ProPublica notes, the ADA has sought for the VA to expand veterans’ dental care, which is only provided in certain circumstances. Despite Trump’s directive, Shulkin, who was fired last March, said in an email to ProPublica that he never received the letter. Nevertheless, Hazzouri referenced the letter and his relationship with Trump in an appeal to the Florida Board of Dentistry while seeking a license to practice in the state so that he could open a small office in south Florida “in order to treat the President, his family and visitors who may have dental needs while conducting official business.” Those who attended Hazzouri’s board meeting described him to Politico as “arrogant,” “lazy” and “bizarre.”
The dentistry board wasn’t swayed by Hazzouri’s connection to Trump, and he eventually withdrew his request after failing to complete several portions of the application. It’s a shame, as Hazzouri opening an office near Mar-a-Lago would have provided the president with another good course partner, as Trump made clear during a 2016 Pennsylvania campaign rally referenced by ProPublica. “Stand up, Albert. Where the hell are you, Albert? Stand up, Albert,” the president said at the rally while scanning the crowd for Hazzouri. “He’s a good golfer, but I’m actually a better golfer than him, right?”