Ronny Jackson, White House physician to three presidents and Donald Trump’s spur-of-the-moment nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, has withdrawn his nomination to run the federal government’s second-largest department after allegations surfaced of harassment, hostile workplace behavior, and excessive drinking on the job.
“Going into this process, I expected tough questions about how to best care for our veterans, but I did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity,” Jackson, a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy and an Iraq War veteran, said in a statement. “The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated.”
“While I will forever be grateful for the trust and confidence President Trump has placed in me by giving me this opportunity, I am regretfully withdrawing my nomination to be Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs,” he said.
Jackson, who won Trump’s personal approval after telling reporters that the president could live to be 200 years old with a better diet, already faced stiff headwinds at the outset of his nomination to succeed fired VA Secretary David Shulkin. The physician had no managerial experience beyond running the White House medical staff, and key congressional leaders told The Daily Beast that they were unfamiliar with Jackson and his views on veterans’ care.
“I have very serious questions that need to be addressed, and they should be addressed right now. Like today,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a senior member of the committee, told The Daily Beast, adding that the White House “has been really careless, maybe even negligent about vetting with a number of these nominations.”
But the dam truly broke after detailed allegations were made regarding Jackson’s behavior in the Navy and at the White House, ranging from hostility to co-workers and subordinates, alcohol use on the job, and over-prescription of medications.
On Wednesday evening, Democrats from the Veterans Affairs Committee released a two-page list of allegations made by 23 current and former colleagues of Jackson that ranged from improperly prescribing opioids to a staff member to crashing a government vehicle while intoxicated.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), the ranking member of the committee, said Jackson was dubbed “the Candyman” because he “handed out prescription drugs like they were candy.”
In an interview on Fox & Friends Thursday morning, President Trump blamed Tester for Jackson’s downfall.
“These are false accusations. They’re trying to destroy a man. For Tester to bring up ‘Candyman,’ there’s no proof of this,” Trump said. “He’s got this beautiful record, unblemished. [Tester] will pay a big price in Montana. The admiral is the kind of person they respect and admire.”
Initially, the White House moved to defend Jackson, who was not vetted or interviewed before President Trump tweeted out his nomination to head Veterans Affairs on March 28. After the Senate’s veterans’ panel officially delayed Jackson’s confirmation hearings, senior administration official told reporters Tuesday that the allegations against Jackson were being driven by disgruntled former employees, and pointed out that a Controlled Substance Inventory Board audit of the White House medical team “confirms Dr. Jackson’s medicinal prescriptions were completely appropriate.”
“He has improved unit morale, received glowing reviews and promotions under Republican and Democrat presidents, and has been given a clean vet from the FBI,” the official said. “He has never even been the subject of an inspector-general review and he will certainly not be railroaded by a bitter ex-colleague who was removed from his job.”
Shortly after that on-background defense, CNN reported that on an overseas trip accompanying President Barack Obama in 2015, an intoxicated Jackson banged on the hotel-room door of a female employee loudly enough to prompt Secret Service agents to stop him before he woke the president. Citing two sources, CNN reported that the employee was “uncomfortable” with Jackson’s behavior.