Ronny Jackson, President Donald Trump’s pick for Veterans Affairs secretary, saw his confirmation hearing postponed Tuesday after a slew of allegations of misconduct unwound in the press. The White House has so far stood by the former Navy doctor, but as reports continue to roll in and information is turned over to lawmakers, will the support last?
The top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, told NPR on Tuesday that more than 20 military employees have made allegations of misconduct, including that Jackson drank on the job, created a hostile work environment, and routinely handed out prescription drugs to staff.
The news of the last-minute and as-yet-unsubstantiated allegations reached President Trump's press briefing with French President Emmanuel Macron, where he seemed to suggest he'd advised Jackson to withdraw.
“I told Admiral Jackson a little while ago, ‘What do you need this for?'” Trump said. “This is a vicious group of people that malign you.”
“It’s totally his decision,” Trump added.
Just a day before Jackson’s confirmation hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, lawmakers on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee sent a letter to the president asking the White House to turn over 12 years worth of documents about the nominee (he's been a White House physician since 2006), including any communication between the White House and the Pentagon about “allegations or incidents” involving Jackson.
"We take very seriously our constitutional duty to thoroughly and carefully vet each nominee sent to the Senate for confirmation," the chairman of the committee, Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Tester, said in a statement. "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."
Tester told NPR his committee heard from individuals who alleged Jackson had been drinking on the job as far back as during his time working for the Obama administration.
"We were told stories where he was repeatedly drunk on while duty where his main job was to take care of the most powerful man in the world," Tester said. "That's not acceptable."
Jackson also allegedly handed out sleeping pills on overseas trips to help people adjust to time changes.
"Most of them are the ones that make you want to sleep and then make you wake up," Tester said. "These are basically doled out, and by the way, we had 20 military folks and retired military folks tell us these stories, these were doled out on overseas trips where there are a lot of time zone changes.”
The Associated Press also reported Tuesday that a 2012 watchdog report found Jackson and another physician had engaged in “unprofessional behaviors” while working for the White House’s medical division.
“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, according to the AP.
But the White House, at least so far, is standing by Jackson, and several lawmakers have said they need more proof before making a judgement call. “I don’t know if the allegations are credible. If they are, it’s a serious matter,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, according to Politico.
Prominent national veterans organizations came out against Jackson when his nomination was first announced, fearing he would bow to conservative pressure to privatize the VA and displeased that he lacked managerial experience.
Cover image: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty