BONUS KELLY: This column didn’t fit in the newspaper, so I’m publishing it here. Enjoy! Or not. cjk.
It’s good to be King.
If you’re not in the royal bloodline, it’s good enough to sit close to the throne.
When it works to his benefit, Albert Hazzouri, DDS, can’t say enough about his bromance with Donald Trump. He’s a favored member of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s exclusive Florida club, and so close to the president and his family, he’s had his hands inside their mouths.
When Hazzouri is exposed trying to profit from his access to the president at the expense of taxpayers, the Scranton cosmetic dentist clams up, his winning smile tucked behind tight lips.
Hazzouri, whose became “570 famous” in his “Winning Smiles” infomercials, made local news on the national stage Wednesday, appearing in a New York Times deep dive into the swamp of cronyism, corruption and incompetence that has plagued the Trump Administration’s lazy, chaotic and lethal response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Times revealed the inner workings of a “task force” of Trump friends and associates, led by First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner. The mission: Reach out to friends who can supply medical equipment to state governments, hospitals and other needy ingrates who keep whining about shortages.
Imagine Kushner’s pitch: “Somebody is gonna profit from this disaster. It may as well be our friends.”
Kushner’s All Stars connected New York officials with an unvetted vendor who promised to provide more than 1,000 ventilators, the Times reported. He was awarded a $69 million contract, but delivered not a single ventilator. The state is trying to recover the money.
Good luck with that.
Hazzouri was hawking COVID-19 test kits made in Mexico, according to the Times report. He invoked his friendship with Trump in repeated calls to FEMA officials. Hazzouri said he had friends who could supply 100,000 test kits.
Why is a dentist in Scranton hawking infectious disease tests made in Mexico?
I wanted to ask the dentist. I called Hazzouri’s cellphone Thursday. No answer. His voicemail was full (probably with messages from reporters). I sent a detailed text
message. No response.
Hazzouri didn’t speak with New York Times reporters, either. They reached a man who claimed to be Hazzouri’s brother. He said the dentist never extracted anything but brotherly love from his bromance with Trump. While Hazzouri made a few introductions for suppliers, none resulted in FEMA contracts, the unidentified brother said.
If it’s true that Hazzouri never profited from his friendship with Trump, it’s not for lack of trying. In May 2018, Hazzouri went before a Florida dental licensing board in a bid to open a practice near Mar-a-Lago. He said the practice would treat the president, his family and guests. Oh, and every once in a while veterans and poor kids could sit in his chair, too.
“I’m personal friends, we talk often, I’ll be seeing him next week. He knows I’m here today,” Hazzouri told the dental board. In a letter to the board, Hazzouri claimed to be the president’s dentist. Pressed by a Times-Tribune reporter, he admitted that was not true, but blamed his staff for sending a letter he signed.
Like many Trump line-jumpers, Hazzouri apparently felt entitled to skip the process for earning a license. He passed on taking a required dental board exam and never provided documentation of his education or proof of proficiency in CPR.
Hazzouri quietly withdrew his application. If the Trump family’s smiles lose their winning gleam, blame the Deep State. The dental board was obviously stacked against Hazzouri. They only asked for his basic credentials to embarrass him, and by extension, the duly elected president.
Hazzouri’s latest stumble across the front page is embarrassing for him, but instructive for those of us who aren’t members of Trump’s exclusive club. It puts a local face on Trump’s inner circle and gives insight into how national disasters become feeding frenzies for ravenous profiteers.
And who can blame them? What good is a friendship with the king if it doesn’t come with some coin of the realm?
After a 2017 audience with His Highness, Hazzouri wrote Trump a note proposing Veterans Administration “reforms” that could cut costs and improve patient access to dental care.
“Dear King,” Hazzouri scribbled on a sheet of Mar-a-lago stationery. “Good seeing you this weekend. This is a short summary of where federal dollars are going for Dental Care for the Vets, Native American Indians and underprivileged kids. Let’s set up a meeting with the American Dental Association and create an oversight committee to stop the waste. I can save your administration $250 million/yr.”
Trump liked the idea, according to ProPublica, the nonprofit news organization that broke the story in 2019. In black marker at the top of Hazzouri’s note, the president scrawled, “Send to David S at the V.A.,” referring to David Shulkin, who at the time was secretary of veterans affairs.
A ProPublica reporter managed to get Hazzouri on the phone. He said he scribbled the note on behalf of the American Dental Association, which has 163,000 members and plenty of press and policy professionals. Hazzouri told PropPublica he didn’t know much about the ADA’s plans.
“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.”
Asked why he referred to the president as “King,” Hazzouri told ProPublica it was an “inside joke” from long before Trump won the White House.
“I call other people King,” he said. “It’s a very personal thing.”
The small-time dentist closed his Mar-a-Lago note to his pal on the throne with a flourish fit for a king.
“Love ya, President, Albert H.,” he wrote, followed by his phone number.
When the king calls, Hazzouri can’t afford not to answer.
CHRIS KELLY, the Times-Tribune columnist, likes dentists who don’t get caught. Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org, cjkink on Twitter. Read his award-winning blog at times-tribuneblogs.com/kelly.