Dr. Ronny Jackson denies allegations of bad behavior

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," April 25, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. JON TESTER, D-MONT.: We need to be able to do our job and we need to get to the bottom of these accusations to find out if they are true. Whether it's prescription drug, handing out like it was candy, or whether it was intoxication or whether it's a toxic work environment.

SEN. JOHN THUNE, R-S.D.: He deserves his day in court. He wants it. I assume the committee will give him that.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE, R-ARIZ.: That's troubling to a lot of us.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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. During each of those investigations, Dr. Jackson received unanimous praise from dozens of witnesses and the investigations revealed no areas of concern.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: As of tonight, Ronny Jackson is still the nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary, and the White House pressing to get a confirmation process started again on Capitol Hill.

Let's bring in our panel: Charles Hurt, opinion editor for The Washington Times; Mo Elleithee, executive director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics, and Jonathan Swan, national politics reporter for Axios. Jonathan is the White House firm in this pushback. It seems so when they are talking publicly. Behind the scenes, are they saying the same thing?

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: The White House is conflicted in the sense that they almost unanimously, in fact I have yet to find anyone in there who doesn't think he's a good man who is being unfairly -- allegations are out there. We don't know if they are true or not. Some of them who have become personally very close to him feel very upset to see this happening to a guy they consider to be a good man.

On the other side, it is very hard to find a senior White House official who thinks that he is the right selection for the job, genuinely believes that, and beliefs Trump unannounced him in the correct way. Trump tweeted it out without any vetting over John Kelly's objections and almost no one in senior staff thought that was a good idea.

BAIER: And Sarah's point is that he had been vetted for his job as physician to the president very closely because obviously he interacts with the president, so through the FBI checks and all that stuff.

SWAN: Doctor to the president is quite different to running the second largest agency and the federal government. And he has no management experience that would be relevant for that job. So that is their concern. I think this is all new information for them, and they are absorbing it. They don't know what to make of it. But for the moment, they are on a front foot.

BAIER: Mo, there's two different sides. One is that the White House puts someone out that perhaps, with the allegations that are back there and they know about and it comes out. But the other side is Democrats in the minority put out the press these allegations that they publicly say they don't know are true. The minority saying multiple individuals citing the nickname Candyman used by the White House staff because he would provide whatever prescriptions they sought without paperwork. Physician, physician assistants, nurses have describing a pattern of handing out Ambien to sleep and Provigil to wake up without triaging patient history, no intakes, no questionnaires on Air Force One. I can tell you personally I was chief White House correspondent. I took Ambien from doctors on trips overseas. These are controlled substances that require tracking. On at least one occasion Dr. Jackson could not be reached when needed because he was passed out drunk in his hotel room. At a Secret Service going away party, Jackson got drunk and wrecked a government vehicle. Those things Jackson denies those things vehemently. And as far as the passing out of Ambien, unless it's something bigger or more serious as far as the drugs, that happens all the time.

MO ELLEITHEE, GEORGETOWN INSTITUTE OF POLITICS: I think you raised two good questions, right? I think Democrats could have brought this up in a different way, brought it to the White House, said this is what we are seeing and we are going to ask about this in a hearing. They could have done that.

But the second issue wouldn't happened had the first one not happened first. The fact that the president did not vet, that the White House did not vet him or they would've caught that there were 20 allegations. True or not, they would have caught it and they would have prepped for it and they would've addressed it on the frontend. It fits a narrative and a track record of this White House of being less than careful with vetting.

So I don't think either side put its best foot forward here, but I think the White House certainly caused this problem by not doing basic vetting.

BAIER: Which was my point in saying, Charlie, both sides could do things differently. The Democrats could have reached out and say here is what we are hearing. What do you know about this? Or let's move forward with the hearing if you want to address this.

CHARLES HURT, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: If all these allegations or any of these allegations are true, it actually sort of reflects more poorly over on the previous administration than it does on the current administration that all of these terrible things were going on inside the White House or on foreign trips under the previous administration.

That said, the president does have a habit of crossing the street without looking both ways. But it works for him. And I think the accusations that this guy is not qualified to run such a large, complex organization. My goodness, who is? The previous person in that spot had a lot of experience with management and he was a disaster. That goes to the nature, if you ask me, of the whole problem of the federal government today is that we have these agencies that are completely ungovernable.

ELLEITHEE: That's the conversation I think a confirmation hearing should be about. And it's not going to be, at least for now, because of the fact that the White House didn't vet the guy and now all these other allegations are popping up. And it goes to your point, right, they are not looking both ways before they cross the street. And they are creating --

BAIER: They other option, though, is that this is not accurate. Let's listen to Senator Tester, another soundbite in his interview where he is laying out these allegations.


TESTER: He hands out prescriptions like candy. In fact, in the White House, they call him the Candyman. There were comments about him being in the hotel room and couldn't respond because he had been drinking so much. The stuff we've got mostly happened during the eight years of President Obama.

The truth of the matter is I don't think President Obama was aware of this stuff or he wouldn't have tolerated it if it was true.


BAIER: So which one is it? The Obama White House calls him the Candyman? October 17, 2016, the president writes "Ronny does a great job, genuine enthusiasm, poised under pressure, incredible work ethic to follow through. Ronny continues to inspire confidence with the care he provides to me, my family, my team. Continue to promote ahead of peers." Which one is it? Either they know or they don't know.

SWAN: I don't usually try to get angry on TV but I actually do feel a sense of deep concern and anger at some of this because I broke that stupid story on Sunday. I said they had deep concerns about him in the White House, on the hill. His confirmation is in peril. And I said there have been allegations taken to Tester.

The reason I wrote it that way is not because I didn't know what the allegations were. I was given them on Friday. I knew what these allegations were. But I don't know if they are true. I have no earthly idea if they are true or not. So I'm not just going to go, well, it's alleged, and I am hearing that this guy did all of these terrible things, and x, y, and z, because I have no idea if it's true or not. And clearly neither does Jon Tester. Surely this is a problem.

BAIER: The White House says they called him the Candyman but maybe President Obama didn't know about it because he wrote these glowing -- at the end of the administration. So there is a disconnect here.

HURT: Clearly this is a guy who has been in the Navy for a long time, has a sterling reputation, has a lot at stake. And we saw the somewhat humorous response from President Trump when he was asked about whether he stood behind Ronny Jackson and he said, I don't know if I would go forward with it if I were him. And of course in Washington speak, everyone was like, oh, he is not backing Ronny Jackson.

BAIER: That's exactly what I said after that press conference, his hours are numbered.

HURT: But if you think about Donald Trump and the way he reacts, and he doesn't speak Washington speak. He was just trying to say you have this good guy and he's getting dragged through the mud. He looks great in a uniform. I wouldn't know why -- and then he had that moment --

ELLEITHEE: He also said it's going to be up to Ronny Jackson to decide whether or not the confirmation goes forward. I agree with you, the first, your point, might be lighthearted and fun, but that is a pretty clear thing, which is to say only Ronny Jackson will decide whether or not this confirmation goes forward. That is less than a ringing endorsement. That is the president putting it out there and saying you have an exit ramp. I'm going to stay hands-off on this because none of us know what's going on. You don't know what's going on because you didn't check.

BAIER: I'm going to leave it there because we could talk about this a long time.

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