WASHINGTON — Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson withdrew his nomination to become secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday following mounting allegations of professional and personal misconduct that the White House physician called completely false and fabricated.
“It has been my distinct honor and privilege to work at the White House and serve three presidents,” Jackson said in a statement that said the claims of misconduct have become a distraction that forced him to withdraw his nomination.
The withdrawal is a black eye on a White House that has struggled with Cabinet nominees and an ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The Jackson decision sent President Donald Trump into a tirade on a call-in interview with “Fox and Friends.”
“I saw where this was going,” Trump said. “Democrats are horrible in what they are doing.
“It’s a disgrace,” Trump said.
Trump nominated Jackson last month to head the embattled department after firing Dr. David Shulkin, who claimed the termination was retaliation for his refusal to privatize portions of the VA, despite a department inspector general report that unveiled unethical behavior.
Jackson, who as Trump’s personal White House physician recently gave a gushing report in which he declared the president could live 200 years with the right diet, was then tapped for the Cabinet post.
But a Senate confirmation hearing for Jackson was postponed this week after allegations surfaced of possible improprieties in dispensing medicine.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Sen. Jon Tester, the ranking Democrat on the panel, agreed to postpone the hearing and issued a joint statement saying the Senate needed answers from the White House about allegations of Jackson’s misbehavior.
“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.
“The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated,” he added.
Democrats were not forgiving, and blamed the White House for failing to fully vet the nominee.
“For President Trump to have offered an inexperienced and clearly ethically compromised nominee is a slap in the face to veterans in Nevada and throughout the country,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said.
Cortez Masto used Trump’s own words on immigration in providing advice on nominees.
“Mr. President, extreme vetting should apply to your Cabinet,” Cortez Masto said.
The VA secretary oversees the second largest federal department with 360,000 employees, serving 9 million veterans, including 339,000 in Nevada.
The nomination was immediately met with skepticism in Congress because of Jackson’s lack of managerial experience, a topic that was expected to be key in his confirmation hearing.
But late last week, lawmakers on the Senate committee were told by former and current colleagues of Jackson of troubling behavior, including overprescribing medicines, fostering a hostile workplace and drinking on the job.
Although Trump dismissed the allegations as Democratic obstructionism, Senate Republicans sought answers to the questions about conduct and staffers said the problems threatened to torpedo Jackson’s nomination.
Jackson spoke personally with lawmakers on the committee last week, including Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
Heller said he was made aware over the weekend of “some serious accusations against Admiral Ronny Jackson. If true, I have significant concerns about his ability to lead the VA.”
Following Jackson’s decision to withdraw, Heller said he looks forward to meeting with the president’s next nominee about the needs of Nevada veterans.
Support by GOP senators continued to wane over the week.
A new set of allegations surfaced about Jackson’s role in wrecking a government vehicle following an event where alcohol was served, and handing out prescription drugs to White House aides during overseas trips.
“In my role as a doctor, I have tirelessly worked to provide excellent care for all my patients. In doing so, I have always adhered to the highest ethical standards,” Jackson said in his statement.
“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.
A Navy Medical inspector general report obtained by the Associated Press found that the White House medical unit suffered low morale because of unprofessional behavior by Jackson and a rival doctor. The report recommended removing one or both from the office.
But that report did not substantiate allegations compiled by committee Democrats from former and current employees who said Jackson doled out the sleeping pill Ambien, Percocet, an opioid, and other medicines to White House staff without prescription.
The practice earned Jackson the nickname, “Candy Man.”
Other incidents also were brought to the panel’s attention, including an incident where Jackson wrecked a government vehicle after being seen intoxicated at a Secret Service party.
Tester, in a statement, thanked the servicemembers who “bravely spoke out over the past week.”
Trump, in his interview on “Fox and Friends,” said Tester “should have a big price to pay in Montana” for bringing up “Candy Man” allegations.
Meanwhile, the vacancy at the VA has left veterans groups concerned about the direction of the department, health care and burials at cemeteries nationwide.