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Former White House physician Ronny Jackson, now a congressman, bullied staff, made sexual remarks, inspector general finds

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson in 2018, when he was the top White House physician. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Tex.), a former White House physician to two presidents, bullied his staff, made inappropriate sexual comments about a female subordinate and exhibited an array of other concerning behavior, according to a Defense Department inspector general report released Wednesday.

Jackson’s former colleagues greatly disapproved of his conduct and leadership within the White House Medical Unit, including incidents where he screamed, belittled staff and erupted into fits of rage, which demoralized nurses and doctors, the report found.

Out of 60 people interviewed about Jackson’s command climate, only 13 had positive experiences to share, investigators said in the report, which was first reported by CNN.

Jackson, 53, who retired as a Navy rear admiral in 2019, “established a workplace where fear and intimidation were kind of the hallmarks of him, his command, and control of his subordinates,” one witness told investigators.

The report recommended the Navy secretary take “appropriate action.” The Navy is reviewing the report, said Cmdr. Courtney Hillson, a Navy spokesperson.

The Navy will determine if a separate investigation is necessary, according to a Navy official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. If one is initiated, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas W. Harker would decide if Jackson’s conduct warrants a reduction in retirement rank, which would lower his monthly pension.

Jackson denied misconduct in a statement Wednesday, describing the report and the allegations that underpin them as partisan attacks. The allegations publicly surfaced in April 2018 after President Donald Trump nominated Jackson as secretary of Veterans Affairs.

“Three years ago I was the subject of a political hit job because I stood with President Trump. Today, a Department of Defense Inspector General report has resurrected those same false allegations from my years with the Obama Administration because I have refused to turn my back on President Trump,” he said in a statement.

Jackson began work as a White House physician in the mid-2000s and was named the top presidential physician in 2013, serving as President Barack Obama’s doctor and then Trump’s. He was elected to represent a Texas congressional district in November.

Witnesses recounted bizarre and sexually charged incidents during a presidential trip to the Philippines in April 2014, when Jackson served as Obama’s physician. A female subordinate told investigators that he pounded on her door after midnight, and when she opened it, Jackson’s eyes appeared bloodshot, she said.

“You could smell the alcohol on his breath, and he leaned into my room and he said, ‘I need you.’ I felt really uncomfortable,” the witness said. “When a drunk man comes to your room and they say, ‘I need you,’ your mind goes to the worst.”

The woman snapped into action, changed out of her pajamas and grabbed her medical bag, she said, because she was unsure if there was a medical concern.

She entered Jackson’s room, where he was yelling about eating fertilized eggs cooked in the shell — a delicacy in the Philippines. A Secret Service agent told her there was a concern Jackson’s noise would wake Obama, she said.

Other witnesses described Jackson making sexual remarks about the woman’s body.

Witnesses also voiced concerns about Jackson’s conduct on a 2016 trip to Argentina. Some described him taking control of the medical bag after drinking, the report said. Control of the bag indicates duty to provide immediate medical care to the president and other officials, the report said.

“Was he drunk? I don’t know,” a witness said. “I’m not a breathalyzer nor can I do a blood-alcohol level by smelling. But did he smell of alcohol? Yes, he did.”

In his statement, Jackson denied misusing alcohol on duty.

Jackson was known to use Ambien on long official flights as the president’s physician, witnesses told investigators. The sleep aid can impair mental awareness. White House guidelines require officials to notify supervisors if they ingest medication that can impair them, but it was unclear if Jackson did, the report said.

There were no medical emergencies on trips recounted by witnesses, the report said. “However, witnesses expressed concerns about RDML Jackson’s ability to provide or supervise medical care while using Ambien if an emergency required it,” the report concluded.

Investigators interviewed dozens of colleagues after tips poured into the Pentagon inspector general’s hotline following Trump’s nomination of Jackson, the report said. Jackson withdrew his consideration after some details of the allegations were made public.

The inspector general withheld release of the report for months, saying in a Feb. 3 denial of a Freedom of Information Act request by The Washington Post that documents requested “could reasonably be expected to interfere with [law] enforcement proceeding.”

The memo did not clarify whether there was an open criminal case investigating Jackson.

The Post appealed that denial on Feb. 17, and received a memo from inspector general’s office on Wednesday afternoon that it was closing the case because it had just released the documents to the public.

Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.