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Ronny Jackson withdraws as VA secretary nominee

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson has withdrawn as President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs,...

Posted: Apr 26, 2018 3:01 PM
Updated: Apr 26, 2018 3:01 PM

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson has withdrawn as President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said in a statement Thursday morning.

His nomination was hampered by a flurry of allegations about Jackson's professional conduct.

In a statement announcing his withdrawal, Jackson slammed allegations of improper behavior leveled against him as "completely false and fabricated."

"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 said. "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 said he was motivated to withdraw from consideration because the allegations against him "have become a distraction" for Trump and his agenda.

"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," Jackson said. "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."

Speaking on "Fox & Friends" Thursday morning, Trump said Jackson's withdrawal was not unexpected.

"I even told him a day or two ago I saw where this was going," Trump said.

Allegations mounted

On Wednesday evening, the release of a two-page document written by Democratic staff on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that included a list of allegations from the committee's conversations with nearly two dozen of Jackson's former and current colleagues made Jackson's chances at survival more uncertain.

According to the summary released by Senate Democrats -- the contents of which remain under investigation by lawmakers and have not yet been substantiated -- Jackson was allegedly "abusive" to his colleagues, loosely handled prescription pain medications and was periodically intoxicated, even once wrecking a government vehicle while drunk.

Jackson has not responded to the allegations in their totality, but told reporters on Wednesday that he did not wreck the government car and had indicated at the time that he planned to continue in the nominating process.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee had raised concerns this week about allegations involving Jackson, the White House physician, and had started to review the allegations in an effort to determine whether they were sufficient to upend his nomination.

Jackson had been expected to appear on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a confirmation hearing, but that hearing was postponed indefinitely as members were assessing allegations about the White House physician's behavior.

Whistleblowers who spoke to the panel described a "toxic" work environment under Jackson's leadership and questionable behavior, including excessive drinking, CNN has reported.

On Wednesday, before the allegations from the Democratic staff of the veterans' panel became public, the White House mounted a robust defense of Jackson, with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders telling reporters he had an "impeccable" record. Sanders suggested that Jackson's current position as the White House physician meant that he had been more thoroughly vetted than other Cabinet nominees.

At one point on Wednesday, Trump raised the prospect of going into the briefing room himself to stick up for Jackson, to say that he is a good guy and had his support. But several senior administration officials, including Sanders, advised against that move.

But later Wednesday, after the allegations included in that Democratic document were released, Trump himself began to wonder out loud whether Jackson should step aside "before things get worse" and White House aides were preparing for that possibility, officials told CNN.

More upheaval for Trump's Cabinet

Jackson's withdrawal marks the most recent setback for Trump's Cabinet, which has had a high rate of turnover. A number of Cabinet officials have faced criticism and scrutiny over their spending habits and ethical judgement, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Jackson also isn't the first nominee to withdraw. Andrew Puzder pulled his name from consideration last year to become labor secretary after facing intense opposition to his nomination.

Trump had defended Jackson even after the allegations against him surfaced.

On Tuesday, the President called Jackson "one of the finest people I have ever met." Trump said he was not aware of the specifics of the allegations and added that it was up to Jackson to decide whether to press forward. "It's totally his decision," the President said, adding, "I don't want to put a man through a process like this. It's too ugly and disgusting."

But Trump also acknowledged that Jackson lacks a background in running a government agency.

"There's a lack of experience," he said.

A surprise nominee

When Trump announced his intent to nominate Jackson in March, the decision came as a surprise on Capitol Hill, where members on both sides of the aisle raised questions about whether Jackson was qualified to lead the sprawling Department of Veterans Affairs. While Jackson served as White House physician under three presidents, his policy views were relatively unknown and some lawmakers expressed concern over whether he had the managerial experience necessary to steer the department.

Trump announced his intention to nominate Jackson as a replacement for David Shulkin, in a presidential tweet last month. Shulkin became embroiled in controversy of his own after the VA inspector general released a damaging report accusing him and other department personnel of "serious derelictions," but was also locked in a policy-based power struggle with members of his staff and political appointees. Trump later said he was dissatisfied with the "speed with which our veterans were taken care of" under Shulkin's leadership.

A graduate of Texas A&M University, Jackson started active-duty naval service in 1995, according to his official US Navy biography. He was chosen to serve as White House physician in 2006 during the administration of George W. Bush, and later served as the physician for then-President Barack Obama.

In January, Jackson made headlines after declaring he had "no concerns" about Trump's cognitive ability after the President underwent a neurological screening. Jackson's performance during that extended news conference played a part in Trump's decision to nominate him to lead the VA, a White House official told CNN.

Tuesday, the Senate committee's top Democrat, Montana's Jon Tester, told CNN's Anderson Cooper that around 20 people had raised concerns to the committee about Jackson, and according to those people, Jackson would hand out prescriptions "like candy."

Tester described reports to the committee that alleged that on overseas trips, Jackson would "go down the aisle way of the airplane and say, 'All right, who wants to go to sleep?' And hand out the prescription drugs like they were candy ... and put them to sleep and then give them the drugs to wake them back up again."

"These are called controlled substances for a reason," Tester said on "Anderson Cooper 360."

The White House doctor also faced allegations of being drunk while overseas with then-President Barack Obama.

"If you are drunk and something happens with the President, it's very difficult to go in and treat the President," Tester said. "That's what multiple people told us, this was the case on several different trips."

Other concerns about Jackson included allegations of a toxic work environment, the senator confirmed.

"We were told time and time again the people above him he treated like gold, the people below him, he belittled, screamed at them, really created a very toxic environment to the point where the people who worked around him felt like they had to walk on eggshells because of his lack of respect for his job," Tester said.

In a letter to Trump sent Tuesday, the senators requested information "regarding allegations or incidents" involving Jackson dating to 2006, the year he was tapped to become White House physician.

One source on the committee told CNN prior to Jackson's withdrawal that lawmakers were also requesting information from the FBI, including Jackson's background check. Tester later said the FBI background investigation into Jackson was "clean."

Congressional sources also told CNN that committee aides had been in touch with individuals associated with additional allegations about prescriptions handled by the White House Medical Unit, which oversees the medical care of the president and administration aides.

While campaigning for the presidency, Trump pledged to make improvements at the Veterans Affairs Department, including reducing wait times for care, upgrading technology and taking steps to facilitate access to private care.

Since his dismissal, Shulkin has warned against privatizing veterans' health care. In a statement released in early April, the VA shot down the idea, saying "there is no effort underway to privatize" veterans' care and that "to suggest otherwise is completely false."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1130719

Reported Deaths: 17736
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1468762242
Lake732391255
Allen68004883
Hamilton51739488
St. Joseph50459650
Elkhart40619547
Vanderburgh34963497
Tippecanoe31212276
Johnson27963467
Hendricks26585385
Porter25969387
Madison21318457
Clark20392279
Vigo19244309
LaPorte17405261
Delaware17004303
Howard16942315
Monroe16794220
Kosciusko14447167
Hancock13259186
Bartholomew13180191
Warrick12320190
Wayne12200269
Grant12181247
Floyd12096226
Morgan10552192
Boone9966124
Noble9429123
Marshall9295147
Henry9268169
Dearborn9053100
Dubois8877140
Shelby8402130
Cass8241128
Lawrence8134185
DeKalb7933109
Jackson779993
Huntington7761116
Montgomery7213123
Gibson7179118
Harrison7031100
Knox6958116
Steuben676589
Miami6675114
Whitley667260
Putnam651286
Clinton633179
Wabash6323111
Jasper622192
Jefferson5946105
Ripley565994
Adams547981
Daviess5124118
Scott498980
Wells4894106
White486069
Greene4749101
Clay468662
Decatur4659110
Fayette462597
Jennings457167
LaGrange432291
Posey412944
Randolph4010107
Washington393656
Fountain382264
Fulton368374
Spencer365147
Starke361474
Owen358577
Sullivan351155
Jay336450
Orange335272
Rush314833
Carroll301639
Franklin295244
Perry292853
Vermillion285958
Tipton253367
Parke251630
Pike251244
Blackford224944
Pulaski213759
Newton185052
Brown179750
Benton171717
Crawford170729
Martin152619
Switzerland149412
Warren137816
Union125116
Ohio92913
Unassigned0599

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1735925

Reported Deaths: 26851
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1807941843
Cuyahoga1705042655
Hamilton1146441544
Montgomery811601405
Summit728891210
Lucas637861027
Butler57319814
Stark544971183
Lorain42941645
Warren36238417
Mahoning36168788
Lake32818501
Clermont31601369
Trumbull27766620
Delaware27462185
Licking26929344
Medina26408353
Fairfield24875287
Greene24585373
Clark22391390
Portage21591283
Richland21339342
Wood20348248
Allen19172326
Miami17486352
Columbiana17078335
Muskingum16882207
Wayne15914307
Tuscarawas14631362
Marion13477196
Ashtabula12980237
Erie12832199
Scioto12586188
Pickaway12326155
Ross11824226
Hancock11659175
Geauga11090179
Lawrence10729172
Belmont10548234
Huron9891159
Jefferson9724228
Union966575
Sandusky9465166
Seneca9020161
Knox8893176
Washington8738159
Darke8446181
Athens842897
Ashland8130152
Auglaize8042120
Shelby7575135
Defiance7431117
Crawford7376150
Fulton7284113
Brown7225116
Logan7087111
Guernsey701786
Mercer6964100
Highland6822120
Clinton6554106
Williams655299
Madison653990
Preble6343140
Putnam6300122
Jackson586597
Champaign586187
Perry571279
Coshocton5700108
Ottawa5696102
Morrow524665
Fayette499072
Hardin4960100
Gallia475878
Van Wert470895
Pike468478
Adams4638110
Henry440380
Hocking414293
Holmes4044141
Wyandot379975
Carroll373678
Paulding327551
Meigs307961
Monroe237261
Noble221949
Morgan219439
Harrison216953
Vinton189738
Unassigned06
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