Ronny jackson withdraws as trump’s nominee to lead veterans affairs – the washington post

Ronny L. Jackson, President Trump’s embattled nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, withdrew from consideration Thursday amid mushrooming allegations of professional misconduct that raised questions about the White House vetting process.

“The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated,” Jackson, the White House physician, said in a defiant statement. “If they had any merit, I would not have been selected, promoted and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the past 12 years.”

Jackson’s nomination had become imperiled even before Capitol Hill Democrats on Wednesday released new allegations of misconduct.

The claims include that he had wrecked a government vehicle after getting drunk at a Secret Service going-away party.

The allegations were contained in a two-page document described by the Democratic staff of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee as a summary of interviews with 23 of Jackson’s current and former colleagues. The document also described Jackson’s “pattern” of handing out medication with no patient history, writing himself prescriptions and contributing to a hostile work environment where there was “a constant fear of reprisal.”

Jackson, 50, has consistently denied wrongdoing. He told colleagues Wednesday night that he had grown frustrated with the nomination process, according to two White House officials with knowledge of his deliberations. He was a surprise nominee to succeed David Shulkin, an Obama-era holdover once lauded by Trump, who was fired March 28.

Two former White House officials told The Post of instances when Jackson drank while traveling with the president — a violation of the White House Medical Unit’s policy. On one such occasion, Jackson was preparing to board Air Force One to accompany then-President Barack Obama home from an overseas trip, according to one former White House official who purportedly witnessed Jackson’s behavior.

On Twitter, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a White House adviser, called Jackson “a man of exceptional integrity, character and intellect” and said she looks forward “to continuing to see his warm smile each day at the White House!”

Jackson becomes the latest candidate Trump has put forward to run a major agency only to topple during the confirmation process. His prior nominees for labor secretary, Army secretary and Navy secretary all withdrew last year after questions arose during their vetting process.

Jackson’s nomination to lead the federal government’s second-largest agency was contentious from the start. White House officials, members of both political parties and veterans advocates all questioned the president’s decision, which was announced via Twitter on March 28.

The move coincided with Trump’s removal of Shulkin as VA secretary. The Cabinet’s only Obama-era holdover, Shulkin clashed with those in the administration who have sought an aggressive expansion of VA’s Choice program, which allows veterans to seek health care from private providers at taxpayer expense. Those opposed to that plan fear it will undermine efforts to address the many challenges VA faces.

Jackson, a one-star Navy admiral whose tenure at the White House spans three administrations, has been criticized as too inexperienced to take on the monumental task of leading an organization comprising more than 360,000 employees. Apart from overseeing the White House medical staff, Jackson had led a military trauma unit in Iraq, tending to troops who had suffered catastrophic wounds during one of the war’s most violent stretches.

He rose to prominence in January, after delivering a fawning assessment of Trump’s health. The president is said to have been captivated by his doctor’s appearance in the White House briefing room, where, following Trump’s physical, Jackson extolled Trump’s fitness and cognitive acuity.

“In my role as a doctor, I have tirelessly worked to provide excellent care for all my patients,” Jackson said in his statement Thursday. “In doing so, I have always adhered to the highest ethical standards. Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this President and the important issue we must be addressing — how we give the best care to our nation’s heroes.”

Late last week, aides to Tester received damaging information about Jackson’s management of the White House medical office. They began interviewing his colleagues, many of them active-duty military officers, whose assessment of the admiral alarmed not only Tester but also the committee’s chairman, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who agreed to postpone Jackson’s confirmation hearing while lawmakers investigated the allegations.

“To nominate Ronny Jackson without thoroughly vetting him and ensuring he’d be an experienced and qualified VA Secretary was an insult to our veterans,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote on Twitter. “They deserve an administration that honors their service with a nominee capable of leading the VA.”

The White House, which was criticized for failing to adequately vet Jackson’s nomination, defended him until the end, saying that his record as a physician serving three presidents was unassailable and demanding that he be allowed to defend himself during a confirmation hearing. But by Wednesday night, senators in both parties doubted he could survive politically.

Trump made no mention of Jackson’s withdrawal Thursday morning at a previously scheduled event with wounded military veterans. Trump touted reforms underway at the Department of Veterans Affairs and recognized Wilkie, who the president said “is doing a great job over at the VA.”

“With the failure of Ronny Jackson it’s going to be a whole different world with vetting,” said Darin Selnick, who recently left the White House after a stint as veterans liaison to VA. “They are going to have to rethink who and how they vet.”

A group of Trump’s friends who have taken a keen interest in VA issues had assembled a group of candidates when Shulkin was ousted, most of whom were doctors and whose candidacies might be rethought in light of Jackson’s fate, according to people familiar with the process.

One name that circulated Thursday was Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a military veteran. But she said she has not been approached by the Trump administration and is not seeking the job. Republican leadership would also probably balk at opening another seat in a difficult election year.

Addressing reporters Thursday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) suggested two possible choices for the next VA secretary: Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and former congressman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), a past chairman of the committee.

“But the volatile, damaging saga continues,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “We now face the prospect of a stunning eighth nominee for VA Secretary since 9/11. Our community is exhausted by the unnecessary and seemingly never-ending drama.”