The White House defended the vetting of its under-fire Veterans Affairs secretary nominee Dr. Ronny Jackson today by claiming that he has spent as much time with the President Trump as nearly anyone and passed four previous background checks.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders invoked Jackson’s constant house calls with Trump as the president’s physician came under scrutiny for his alleged role as a ‘Candy Man’ dispenser of drugs and accusations of excessive drinking on the job and hostile workplace management, as laid out in a 2012 Navy inspector general’s report.
Sanders acknowledged the White House did not know about the allegations until recently – but she claimed he had been adequately vetted and received rave reviews from President Obama when Jackson was his White House doc.
Asked if the federal checks was the extent of the vetting, she responded: ‘No. There’s a number of things. But you also have to remember This is somebody that spends more time with the president than just about anyone.’
Confirmation hearings for Dr. Jackson – President Donald Trump’s personal physician and a rear admiral – were delayed while senators investigated if the damning claims were true and could wreck his chances. He is pictured on Capitol Hill on Tuesday
Jackson’s qualifications had been an issue even before the accusations against him emerged. The military doctor has never helmed an organization the size of or anywhere close to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
Trump encouraged Jackson to drop his nomination on Tuesday during a news conference, saying it is what he would do if he were in his shoes, while leaving the decision ultimately up to the physician.
After an Oval Office meeting between Jackson and Trump later in the day, the White House launched a full-scale defense of the military doctor who has served two previous presidents.
Sanders said Wednesday during a televised briefing that Jackson’s record as a physician ‘has been impeccable’ and that he has had ‘more vetting than most nominees.’
She said, ‘There’s been a pretty thorough vetting process done by the FBI, as well as three other independent investigations.’
‘These investigations are very thorough and certainly something that was taken into consideration,’ Sanders added, of the FBI investigations where government employees are checked for history of crime, drugs, truthfulness, and a variety of past family or work situations.
‘Jackson has undergone four separate background checks, one of which was conducted by the FBI … and came back with a clean recommendation,’ Sanders said.
Sanders also defended Jackson as having the experience to run the world’s second largest health organization, even after Trump said Tuesday that experience was ‘an issue.’
‘If he didn’t think he had the experience, he wouldn’t have nominated’ Jackson, Sanders said.
However said that allegations against him – including the alleged drinking on the job and hostile work environment were ‘certainly something that we’d look into, absolutely.’
Sanders told DailyMail.com that the most recent check came at the beginning of President Trump’s administration.
That was a year and a half ago and far prior to his nomination to lead the VA following the president’s dismissal on Twitter of the previous department head, David Shulkin.
HE WAS VETTED!: ‘Jackson has undergone four separate background checks, one of which was conducted by the FBI,’ said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders
Sanders did not enumerate who performed the other checks beyond the FBI.
‘Dr. Jackson has had at least four independent background investigations conducted during his time at the White House, including an FBI investigation conducted as part of the standard nomination process,’ Sanders said at the top of the White House press briefing.
On the charge of over-prescribing meds, she said: ‘I think that makes it pretty clear in terms of very thorough investigation and vetting process has taken place. None of those things [have] come up.’
She called on Congress to ‘move forward with a hearing,’ on a day when Jackson was originally scheduled to take questions from Republican and Democratic Veterans Affairs Committee members before leaders of the panel elected to postpone it.
Jackson has an East Wing office that puts him in close proximity to the president, but it wasn’t immediately clear why he would be spending more time with this doctor than just about anyone else, including family or senior staff members, as Sanders said.
His friendly relationship with Trump was on full display in January, however, when he claimed that the president has ‘incredibly good genes.’
Jackson claimed that the president was in ‘excellent’ health after his first physical since taking office, even though he is moderately overweight by government standards.
‘Some people have just great genes. I told the president that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old,’ he stated.
President Trump said experience was an issue for Jackson when he said Tuesday it was up to him whether to go forward with his nomination
The White House is vowing to fight for the nomination of Jackson to run the VA, regardless of new accusations from CNN that he once he once awoke a female subordinate while drunkenly banging on her door during an overseas work trip.
That incident is said to have taken place in 2015 when Obama was still in office.
The woman was ‘unconformable’ with the incident and it got so noisy that Secret Service were forced to intervene so he wouldn’t wake anyone up, CNN reported.
Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Veterans’ committee, also provided new details on the allegations against Jackson in a series of interviews late Tuesday.
He told CNN that on overseas trips in the Obama administration, 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.’
Tester also told CNN that Jackson has the nickname ‘the Candy Man’ because he hands out pills ‘like candy’.
Tester had told NPR’s ‘All Things Considered’ on Tuesday afternoon that his committee’s research turned up allegations of the type that can derail Cabinet nominees.
‘He is the physician for the president, and in the previous administration,’ Tester said, recalling that Dr. Ronny Jackson served more than a decade at the White House. ‘We were told stories where he was repeatedly drunk while on duty – where his main job was to take care of the most powerful man in the world.’
Jackson was also found passed out drunk in his hotel during an overseas trip under Obama’s trip when aides needed him for medical assistance, the New York Times reported.
READY TO FIGHT: Adm. Ronny Jackson wants a confirmation to dispute allegations against him that have surfaced from a 2012 report
Republicans and Democrats atop to the panel scrapped a planned hearing for Jackson as the slew of allegations surfaced publicly.
‘I think If these accusations are found to be false, then I think yeah, there could be a confirmation hearing,’ Tester told NBC. ‘If these accusations are true I think it puts him in a world of hurt.’
Jackson ‘wants a public hearing to clear the air rather than step aside under suspicion,’ according to the network.
He showed up in the Capitol on Tuesday even as controversy swirled around him and said he was ‘looking forward to getting it rescheduled and answering everybody’s questions.’
Trump’s White House is girding to defend the embattled nominee after the sitting president questioned why Jackson would put up with the attacks and go forward with the job on Tuesday afternoon.
A White House source told NBC News that Jackson is being ‘railroaded’ by a bitter ex colleague.
US Navy Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson (C), US President Donald J. Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of Veteran Affairs, is followed by members of the news media following a meeting in the office of Republican Senator from Kansas Jerry Moran, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 24 April 2018
Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, center, President Donald Trump’s choice to be secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, walks down a stairwell as he leaves a Senate office building
Dr. Ronny Jackson (right), the current nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, has been accused of doling out sleeping pills and stimulants to White House staff while on long overseas trips with President Barack Obama (left), and of being ‘repeatedly’ drunk while on duty
Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the senior Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, dished details to NPR including verbatim complaints of Jackson’s former underlings who said he presided over a hostile work environment
The surprise confirmation battle comes months after Jackson impressed White House officials and silenced nagging questions with his crisp defense of President Trump’s health and mental fitness for office.
Jackson is Trump’s personal physician, and served in the same role for President Barack Obama. He met with Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon, and White House officials said afterward that the president is standing by him.
Obama wrote in a 2014 assessment of Jackson’s job performance that he was ‘[a] most impressive leader who continues to perform at the Flag Officer level. Ronny has earned my confidence and the gratitude of my family for his diligence and knowledge. Promote to Flag immediately.’
A year later, he called him ‘Absolutely the best’ and wrote that ‘Ronny’s positive impact cannot be overstated. He is a tremendous asset to the entire White House team. Already at a level of performance and responsibility that exceeds his current rank, promote to Rear Admiral now.’
A senior White House official said Tuesday evening in a statement that ‘Dr. Jackson’s record as a White House physician is impeccable. He has improved unit morale, received glowing reviews and promotions under Republican and Democrat presidents, and has been given a clean vet from the FBI.’
But Tester said Tuesday that ’20 military folks and retired military folks’ had come forward to the Navy’s military inspector general in 2012 to describe how Jackson made sleep aids and stimulants easily available to staff traveling on Obama’s overseas trips.
‘Most of them [the medicines] are the ones that make one sleep, and make you wake up. And these [were]… pretty much doled out, as, “Somebody wants to go to sleep? Here’s a pill”,’ he said.
Tester says former underlings of Dr. Jackson used specific words when describing their supervisor’s on-the-job demeanor, including: ‘Abusive toward staff,’ ‘Very explosive personality,’ ‘Belittles the folks underneath him,’ and ‘Screamed toward staff.’
It’s unclear whether Tester was referring to his committee’s own investigation of Jackson or the inspector general report, first cited by the Associated Press less than an hour before the NPR interview.
But he was adamant that whatever poisonous atmosphere existed in the White House’s medical unit flowed down from the top.
‘I think it was pretty clear that he was the person who was creating the environment,’ he said, adding: ‘We heard the same story from enough people repeatedly, that there’s a lot of smoke there.’
2014 EVALUATION: President Barack Obama pronounced Dr. Ronny Jackson an ‘Exceptional Physician and Naval Officer! … A key member of my staff since my first day in office, Ronny is one of my administration’s most trusted advisors. … I consider this consummate professional a national asset.’
2015 EVALUATION: Obama concluded that ‘Ronny’s positive impact cannot be overstated. He is a tremendous asset to the entire White House team. Already at a level of performance and responsibility that exceeds his current rank, promote to Rear Admiral now.’ He also added in capital letters: ‘**ABSOLUTELY THE BEST! PROMOTE TO FLAG IMMEDIATELY**’
2016 EVALUATION: Obama wrote that ‘Ronny does a great job – genuine enthusiasm, poised under pressure, incredible work ethic and follow through. Ronny continues to inspire confidence with the care he provides to me, my family and my team. Continue to promote ahead of peers.’
The 2012 report cited Jackson for ‘unprofessional behaviors’ at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
News of the report, and Tester’s expansive description of its context, are the latest signal that Jackson’s nomination may not be long-lived.
Trump said Tuesday that he would understand if the rear admiral bowed out of consideration. News reports from CBS and The New York Times have relayed unsubstantiated allegations that Jackson consumed alcohol on the job, over-prescribed medications and presided over a hostile work environment.
‘I really don’t think, personally, he should do it, but it’s … totally his decision,’ Trump said during a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron.
‘The fact is, I wouldn’t do it,’ he said, recounting his advice to the Navy doctor who also tended to the medical needs of President George W. Bush. ‘I wouldn’t do it. What does he need it for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country?’
President Trump (right) appeared in a joint press conference Tuesday with French President Emmanuel Macron, saying he had advised Dr. Jackson that he didn’t have to press ahead with confirmation hearings to lead the Veterans Affairs Department
CONFUSION: Dr. Jackson told NBC News on Tuesday that ‘no,’ there was no inspector general report criticizing his job performance
According to the Associated Press, Jackson himself requested the IG report. It similarly criticized Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman, who led the White House Medical Unit until 2011.
The report describes a soap opera-like power struggle after Jackson, not Kuhlman, was named to run the unit.
The senior White House official suggested that Kuhlman was behind the media firestorm that threatens to sink Jackson’s chances: ‘[H]e will certainly not be railroaded by a bitter ex-colleague who was removed from his job.’
The inspector general found a lack of trust in the leadership and low morale among staff members at the time. Some who worked with Jackson and Kuhlman described their working environment as ‘being caught between parents going through a bitter divorce.’
‘There is a severe and pervasive lack of trust in the leadership that has deteriorated to the point that staff walk on “eggshells”,’ the report found.
It’s unclear how much Trump knew about Jackson’s paper trail when he made his remarks Tuesday afternoon.
Jackson, however, had assured an NBC news crew hours earlier that ‘no, there was not’ an IG report reflecting anonymous allegations of misconduct against him.
Trump added, however that he ‘would definitely stand behind him’ if he decided to press forward despite political headwinds related to allegations of professional misconduct.
‘He’s a fine man. I’ll always stand behind him,’ the president declared, while insisting: ‘I’d let it be his choice.’
Trump’s doctor is accused of drinking on the job, improperly prescribing medicine and creating a hostile work environment
The reporter who asked Trump about his nominee didn’t mention the specifics of Jackson’s difficult position. Trump, too, said: ‘I haven’t heard of the particular allegations.’
But he said he had advised Jackson to avoid sailing toward the partisan shoals of Capitol Hill and stay where he is.
‘I told Admiral Jackson just a little while ago, I said, “What do you need this for? This is a vicious group of people that malign”,’ he recalled. ‘And they do, and I lived through it.’
Trump claimed Jackson became the latest political target in Democrats’ sights because they have been unable to derail CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s transition to lead the State Department.
‘They failed to stop him, so now they say, “Who’s next? Who’s next?”‘ Trump vented.
‘I don’t want to put a man through, who’s not a political person, I don’t want to put a man through a process like this,’ he added. ‘It’s too ugly and too disgusting.’
Jackson’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, had been scheduled for Wednesday but was postponed indefinitely on Tuesday morning.
He told NBC News on Capitol Hill that he ‘was looking forward to the hearing tomorrow. Kind of disappointed that it’s been postponed, but I’m looking forward to getting it rescheduled and answering everybody’s questions.’
‘We take very seriously our constitutional duty to thoroughly and carefully vet each nominee sent to the Senate for confirmation,’ said the chairman, Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson and the ranking Democrat, Montana Sen. Jon Tester.
‘We will continue looking into these serious allegations and have requested additional information from the White House to enable the committee to conduct a full review.’
As of Tuesday no evidence has been made public to support the allegations against Jackson. The New York Times and CBS News have both reported the claims without disclosing who made them.
South Dakota Republican Sen. Mike Rounds, who sits on the committee, said Monday night on the Fox News Channel that Isakson had relayed to members that there were ‘unsubstantiated allegations’ that required a hearing delay.
The naval officer was to replace the scandal-plagued David Shulkin, who Trump fired last month. CBS reported that multiple people have accused Jackson of ‘excessive drinking on the job and improperly dispensing medicine.’
He ‘created a hostile working environment’ to such a degree that if the allegations were proved true ‘it’ll sink his nomination’, the network’s sources said.
The White House didn’t deny the allegations in a statement issued Tuesday morning.
‘Admiral Jackson has been on the front lines of deadly combat and saved the lives of many others in service to this country. He’s served as the physician to three Presidents – Republican and Democrat – and been praised by them all,’ Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said.
‘Admiral Jackson’s record of strong, decisive leadership is exactly what’s needed at the V.A. to ensure our veterans receive the benefits they deserve.’
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee members said they were trying to determine if the accusations had ‘factual basis’ before a hearing scheduled for Wednesday.
‘We need to be asking questions and there need to be answers,’ Senator Richard Blumenthal told CNN.
‘At this point we are dealing with some fairly raw allegations and we need to know if there is factual support for it.’
When Senator Jon Tester, the committee’s top Democrat, was asked if the allegations were troubling, he replied ‘only if true’, adding that vetting was ‘all hands on deck.’
Admiral Jackson is best known for his glowing review of President Trump’s health (pictured) after his first physical in January, which was met with intense sceptcism
Senators from both parties were already concerned that Admiral Jackson lacked the management experience to run the second-biggest government agency.
The military doctor is best known for his glowing review of President Trump’s health after his first physical in January, which was met with intense skepticism.
Admiral Jackson declared he was in ‘excellent health’ but should improve his diet and exercise as he weighed 239 lbs. with a Body-Mass Index of 29.9.
‘He has a lot of energy and a lot of stamina,’ he said, claiming President Trump could live to be 200 if he improved his health.
The doctor also made the bizarre claim that ‘he has incredibly good genes; it’s just the way God made him.’
Admiral Jackson also tried to quash fears that President Trump could be developing dementia, saying he had ‘no cognitive, mental issues whatsoever. He is very sharp.’
Admiral Jackson is best known for his glowing review of President Trump’s health after his first physical in January, which was met with intense sceptcism
Veterans Affairs has an annual budget of $180 billion and more than 370,000 staff to handle veterans’ medical care, benefits, and burials and memorials.
Senators said he ‘has some issues with management’ and ‘hasn’t really overseen a large group’ before, which concerned them.
‘He doesn’t have the experience you’d think would traditionally be required at the VA,’ Senator Jerry Moran told The Hill.
President Trump’s own advisers were surprised by the nomination, and chief of staff John Kelly though it was unwise to tap him so quickly without proper vetting.
The White House has aggressively defended Admiral Jackson since then, pointing out his military service and Navy SEAL son.
‘Members of Congress who have never managed a thing outside of their own congressional office have the audacity to say he’s not qualified before he even has a hearing,’ White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short said.