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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 Ronny Jackson has withdrawn as President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs,...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 2:01 PM
Updated: Apr 26, 2018 2:01 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 Ronny Jackson has withdrawn as President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said in a statement Thursday morning.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."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 97049

Reported Deaths: 2919
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7148160
DeSoto562361
Harrison388374
Jackson352170
Madison331289
Rankin330879
Lee274870
Forrest250075
Jones249879
Washington225977
Lafayette219340
Lauderdale2064125
Bolivar184766
Oktibbeha180152
Lamar172435
Neshoba1580104
Lowndes157958
Panola150731
Sunflower147346
Leflore141381
Warren140950
Pontotoc127916
Pike124051
Monroe123669
Copiah119233
Scott117627
Coahoma116229
Marshall111117
Lincoln110453
Holmes109859
Grenada109536
Yazoo106230
Simpson104746
Tate100638
Union99824
Leake96138
Adams94237
Wayne90521
Pearl River89453
Marion86835
Prentiss86317
Itawamba83121
Covington82723
Alcorn82311
George78213
Tallahatchie77421
Newton77324
Winston74219
Tishomingo69138
Chickasaw68524
Tippah67217
Attala67025
Clarke60346
Walthall60226
Clay59618
Hancock58822
Jasper57715
Noxubee55116
Smith53615
Calhoun52212
Tunica49715
Claiborne46516
Montgomery46520
Yalobusha43614
Lawrence43313
Perry42419
Greene38717
Humphreys37815
Quitman3775
Stone37512
Jefferson Davis34211
Webster33813
Amite33210
Carroll32012
Wilkinson30518
Kemper29015
Sharkey26613
Jefferson2439
Benton2283
Franklin1933
Choctaw1866
Issaquena1053
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 136055

Reported Deaths: 2364
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19752350
Mobile13449292
Montgomery8852184
Tuscaloosa8654118
Madison792778
Shelby601349
Lee592760
Baldwin552650
Marshall396143
Calhoun353444
Etowah352145
Morgan331428
Houston292021
Elmore267348
DeKalb243221
St. Clair233036
Walker231984
Talladega217129
Limestone211920
Cullman190720
Dallas179126
Franklin178129
Autauga177325
Russell17633
Lauderdale172333
Colbert166626
Blount161715
Escambia161124
Chilton158830
Jackson158111
Covington140327
Dale139244
Coffee13596
Pike120510
Chambers116842
Tallapoosa116485
Clarke110016
Marion96829
Butler91339
Barbour8857
Winston74512
Marengo72420
Pickens66614
Bibb65610
Lowndes65427
Randolph65413
Hale64428
Geneva6344
Lawrence62123
Cherokee61213
Bullock60614
Monroe5908
Clay5878
Washington55913
Perry5416
Crenshaw54032
Conecuh53611
Wilcox53211
Henry5075
Macon48318
Fayette4628
Sumter43819
Cleburne3825
Lamar3702
Choctaw35112
Greene30315
Coosa1723
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