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Trump health official Seema Verma spent millions in taxpayer funds to boost 'personal brand,' Democrats charge

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Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, speaks at the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on April 19, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Tasos Katopodis | Getty Images

Congressional Democrats are accusing a top health official in President Donald Trump’s administration of “extensive abuse” of millions of taxpayers’ dollars, in part by retaining a raft of GOP-tied media consultants in an attempt to boost her “personal brand.”

Leaders from four congressional committees, who on Thursday revealed the results of a 17-month investigation into Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma’s use of public funds, are now calling on her to “personally reimburse the taxpayers for these inappropriate expenditures.”

The Democrats say they obtained tens of thousands of documents showing dozens of questionable billing statements – including that one consultant, Pam Stevens, billed almost $3,000 for work related to setting up a “Girl’s Night to honor the Administrator.”

The probe was conducted by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Oversight and Reform Committee, Senate Finance Committee and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“Our investigation found that Administrator Verma misused funds appropriated by Congress and wasted taxpayer dollars intended to support critical federal health care programs,” the Democratic committee leaders said in a joint statement. 

“Congress did not intend for taxpayer dollars to be spent on handpicked communications consultants used to promote Administrator Verma’s public profile and personal brand. Administrator Verma has shown reckless disregard for the public’s trust,” they said.

The Democrats’ report adds that Verma “built a shadow operation that sidelined CMS’s Office of Communications.”

CMS did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the probe.

The investigation comes two months after the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services published a report accusing Verma of misusing more than $5 million in taxpayer money to pay politically connected contractors and subcontractors.

CMS, one of the largest agencies in the federal government, oversees the massive public health-care programs Medicare and Medicaid, which provide crucial coverage and services to primarily older and poorer Americans, respectively. The agency also administers the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Obamacare private health insurance exchanges and the Obamacare program.

Verma was confirmed by the Senate in 2017.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates. 

— CNBC’s Dan Mangan contributed to this report.

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