Trump Nominee Jackson Withdraws Candidacy for VA Secretary

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(Bloomberg) -- White House physician Ronny Jackson withdrew his nomination to be Veterans Affairs secretary Thursday after a Senate panel delayed a confirmation hearing to review allegations of improper behavior and management lapses.

“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 in a statement.

“The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated,” he said. “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 failed nomination is the latest instance of staff turmoil in President Donald Trump’s administration, which has seen record turnover and a series of personnel scandals. Jackson was nominated to replace former Secretary David Shulkin, who Trump fired in March after a damning inspector general report alleging misuse of taxpayer funds.

Trump’s decision to nominate the White House doctor to run the Veterans Affairs Department immediately raised questions among lawmakers who expressed concern about Jackson’s background and experience.

Jackson remains assigned to the White House as a Naval physician, but it’s unclear who will be assigned to the duty of acting as the president’s physician, spokesman Raj Shah said.

Trump called into the Fox program “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning for an interview and said Jackson was a victim of Washington politics.

"These are all false accusations,’’ Trump added. "By the way, I did say ‘Welcome to Washington. Welcome to the swamp.’"

Later, while meeting the children of journalists who cover the White House, Trump said that Jackson is “a great man and he got treated very, very unfairly. He got treated really unfairly. He’s a hell of a man.”

Trump blamed Montana Senator Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, who publicly discussed some of the allegations against Jackson, including that he improperly dispensed prescription drugs, was "repeatedly drunk on duty, while traveling" and created a hostile work environment while serving as White House physician.

“I think this is going to cause him a lot of problems in his state,” Trump said of Tester. “There’s no proof of this. He’s got this perfect record. Unblemished. For him to be doing this to this man and this family, I think Jon Tester has to have a big price to pay in Montana.”

Trump said he has a replacement VA nominee in mind who is “somebody with political capability,” but he would not name that person in the Fox interview.

Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee delayed a planned hearing on Jackson’s nomination after allegations emerged about problems within his office.

Jackson denied the allegations.

“In my role as a doctor, I have tirelessly worked to provide excellent care for all my patients,” he said in the statement. “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.”

Trump said at a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday that he was unaware of the allegations, but that he had advised Jackson earlier in the day to withdraw.

“I said to Dr. Jackson, what do you need it for?” Trump said. “I don’t want to
put a man through a process like this. It’s too ugly and disgusting.”

He later added, “I really don’t think personally he should” continue in the running for the post “but it’s totally his, I would stand behind him, totally his decision.”

Several other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle indicated Tuesday that Jackson’s nomination was unlikely to advance, and blamed the administration’s vetting process.

“I just think the White House does not vet their nominees so it leaves us as members having to look at their personal and leadership and other qualities,” said Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “And they didn’t do a good job, and now we’re doing it.”

Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who isn’t on the panel considering the nomination, said the allegations “raise questions about the White House vetting process,” and added that she had concerns about Jackson even before the new questions came to light.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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