Dr. Ronny Jackson withdraws as VA secretary nominee
Dr. Ronny Jackson, the embattled nominee for secretary of Veterans Affairs, withdrew his name from consideration on Thursday, saying the “false allegations” against him have become a “distraction” for President Trump.
The announcement comes after more allegations surfaced overnight, including that he crashed a government car while drunk.
Trump still defended Jackson Thursday morning and described the allegations as false.
"He would have done a great job, he has a tremendous heart," Trump said in an interview on "Fox & Friends." "These are false accusations, they are trying to destroy a man."
Jackson had denied the allegations against him and as recently as Wednesday said he was looking forward to answering “everybody’s questions.”
But on Thursday morning, he pulled his name.
“The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated,” he said in a statement. “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.”
However, he said, “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.”
He said he is “regretfully withdrawing” his nomination. The White House announced shortly after that he was back at work as a White House doctor.
The withdrawal came after a fresh set of accusations Wednesday, unearthed by a review by Democrats, including that Jackson was nicknamed "Candyman" because he would provide prescriptions without paperwork such as the sleep aide Ambien.
Colleagues and former colleagues told Democratic staffers that there were multiple incidents of drunkenness on duty, including one where he got drunk at a Secret Service going-away party and wrecked a government car. Jackson said he had "no idea" where the claim he wrecked a car came from.
A 2012 report by the Navy's Medical Inspector General also accused him of exhibiting "unprofessional behaviors" amid a power struggle over the White House medical unit.
But the White House has stood by Jackson, and noted that he had received glowing evaluations from President Barack Obama.
“A most impressive leader who continues to perform at the Flag Officer level," Obama said in October 2014. "Ronny has earned my confidence and the gratitude of my family for his diligence and knowledge. Promote to Flag immediately.”
“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," Obama said in October 2016. "Continue to promote ahead of peers.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Wednesday that Jackson’s record has been “impeccable” and that background checks revealed “no areas of concern." Sanders also noted that Jackson has worked “within arm's reach of three presidents.”
“Given his unique position of trust and responsibility, Dr. Jackson’s background and character were evaluated during three different administrations,” she said. “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 vetting process.”
White House spokesman Raj Shah later said Trump met with Jackson Wednesday, and he said the president still supported the nomination.
The White House has also been criticial of Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the ranking Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee, for airing some of the allegations.
“It’s quite unusual for a United States senator to take allegations that have not been fully investigated, but to flaunt them to the national public to suggest he’s the ‘candyman’ I think is outrageous,” White House legislative director Marc Short said. Trump, on "Fox & Friends" Thursday, said that Tester "has a big price to pay" in Montana.
Tester, in a statement, thanked those who had "bravely spoke out over the past week."
"It is my Constitutional responsibility to make sure the veterans of this nation get a strong, thoroughly vetted leader who will fight for them," he said.
Fox News' John Roberts, Serafin Gomez, Frank Miles and The Associated Press contributed to this report.