Ronny L. Jackson, President Trump’s embattled nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, withdrew from consideration Thursday amid mushrooming allegations of professional misconduct that raised questions about the White House vetting process.
“The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated,” Jackson 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.”
It was puzzling that none of the allegations brought against Jackson were picked up by previous background checks. (The White House has claimed there were four separate inquiries.) In any event, the number and seriousness of the alleged offenses had continued to mount, making the nomination impossible to sustain. The Post had reported Wednesday night:
White House physician Ronny L. Jacks
on, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, wrecked a government vehicle after getting drunk at a Secret Service going away party, according to an explosive list of allegations released Wednesday by the Democratic staff of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
In the two-page summary of interviews conducted by the minority staff, Jackson also stands accused of a “pattern” of handing out medications with no patient history, prescribing medications to himself, and contributing to a hostile work environment with “a constant fear of reprisal.”
Especially troubling was the claim that Jackson did not properly track controlled substances, prescribed a large amount of Percocet to a White House Military Office staffer and generally engaged in “loose dispensing of drugs.” In addition to his absence of experience running a huge department, his people skills, it turned out, were lacking, to put it mildly:
According to the report: “Jackson was described
as ‘the most unethical person I have ever worked with,’ ‘flat-out unethical,’ ‘explosive,’ ‘100 percent bad temper,’ ‘toxic,’ ‘abusive,’ ‘volatile,’ ‘incapable of not losing his temper,’ ‘the worst officer I have ever served with,’ ‘despicable,’ ‘dishonest,’ as having ‘screaming tantrums’ and ‘screaming fits,’ as someone who would ‘lose his mind over small things,’ ‘vindictive,’ ‘belittling,’ ‘the worse leader I’ve ever worked for.’”
For once, Republicans had let it be known on Wednesday that they were disinclined to jam through another unqualified nominee with outstanding issues. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) was quoted by Politico as saying it was “very unlikely” that the nomination would press on. Moreover, “three Republican senators, granted anonymity, said they want the White House to withdraw the nomination immediately, calling it a self-inflicted wound that will only get worse with time. … Republican senators wanted to know why the administration wasn’t aware of those problems in Jackson’s background weeks ago so senators and White House officials could mount an effective defense of him. And Republicans are confounded that the White House hasn’t withdrawn Jackson’s nomination after whistleblowers came to Veterans’ Affairs Committee with the charges.”
The final death knell came from veterans themselves. Military.com reported Wednesday:
Veterans groups have begun to express concerns that the Department of Veterans Affairs will ignore pressing problems because of the leadership vacuum resulting from the nomination of embattled Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson. . . . Denise Rohan, national commander of the American Legion, which has more than two million members, said, “Our nation’s veterans deserve a strong, competent and experienced Secretary to lead” VA. …
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which claims 400,000 members, said a poll of more than 2,200 of its members showed that only 29 percent support Jackson’s nomination.
Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive officer of IAVA, called on the Senate to “do its job at this defining time and ensure that any nominee for VA Secretary will live up to this awesome responsibility. Without stability in VA leadership, veterans nationwide are being left behind, our priorities are stalled and our national security is jeopardized.”
It is a disgrace that for all his averred concern for veterans, Trump would have shown so little care in selecting the leader of VA. Rather than confront Jackson or admit error, the president appeared willing to stick veterans with an unqualified figure against whom a plethora of serious management issues have been raised. Could it be that Trump’s concern for veterans is less than sincere? In this case, serious opposition in the Senate saved the VA and the country from a prolonged, embarrassing confirmation process.
Let’s take a step back for a moment. Someone who allegedly was found drunk in a hotel room on duty and allegedly drove drunk has been treating the president of the United States. Everyone feel comfortable with that? It’s mystifying that he hasn’t been suspended from duty so that a full investigation can be undertaken. Sadly, it is not just the VA post that was lost; also at issue now is Jackson’s continued assignment to the White House.
Then there is the issue of how Trump managed to extend an offer with no vetting, no consultation and no interview (according to reports). Did he discuss the pick with anyone? Did he solicit reaction from veterans’ groups or from the Hill?
The process or lack of process in selecting nominees for senior positions should lead members of the Senate to two conclusions. First, Trump’s nominees do not deserve the presumption of support. While most presidents are shown deference to get the people they want, this president’s serial failures to select and vet people should remove the presumption of fitness. Second, this is the umpteenth staff error under chief of staff John F. Kelly. Just on the subject of personnel, we saw the Rob Porter case, the larger issue of security clearances, the surprise pick of John Bolton as national security adviser, and now this. Kelly is no longer providing value to the White House and, in fact, his ongoing presence might prevent someone who might be marginally more capable from being picked. (Alternatively, Trump might pick no one and operate without a net, so to speak.)
The good news is that the Senate Republicans prevented Jackson from leading the VA. The bad news is that no one seriously thinks Trump’s nomination process — if there even is one — will improve. Let’s hope that having experienced the thrill of actually doing their jobs, Senate Republicans will exercise much more discernment in considering future nominees. Better yet, they might start to fulfill Congress’s role as a co-equal branch of government. Passing a bill to protect the special counsel would be an excellent next step.