The White House on Friday said officials had conducted a thorough review of presidential physician Ronny L. Jackson’s vehicle records and found three minor incidents but no evidence that he “wrecked” a car after drinking at a Secret Service going-away party, as was alleged in a document released by Senate Democrats this week.
The crash stood out as one of the most serious allegations in the two-page document, which also detailed accusations that Jackson drank on the job, improperly prescribed and dispensed medications, and created a “toxic” work environment. The Navy rear admiral withdrew his bid to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday, less than 24 hours after the allegations came to light.
Although many news outlets, including The Washington Post, have described anonymous accounts of some of the other charges, no evidence has publicly surfaced that the crash happened since Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) authorized the release of the allegations on Wednesday. Jackson has vehemently denied all of the allegations.
Also Friday, the Secret Service issued a statement denying the details of a published report that agents had intervened on an overseas trip to prevent Jackson from bothering then-President Barack Obama. According a report from CNN, Jackson had pounded on another White House official’s hotel room door close enough to the president’s room to risk disturbing him.
“A thorough review of internal documents related to all Presidential foreign travel that occurred in 2015, in addition to interviews of personnel who were present during foreign travel that occurred during the same time frame, has resulted in no information that would indicate the allegation is accurate,” the statement reads.
All of it has emboldened President Trump and the White House to accuse Tester of a smear campaign — and has muddied the case against Jackson, who not only removed his name from consideration for VA secretary but also continues to face scrutiny as White House physician.
Trump tweeted Saturday morning, calling for Tester to resign: “Allegations made by Senator Jon Tester against Admiral/Doctor Ron Jackson are proving false. The Secret Service is unable to confirm (in fact they deny) any of the phony Democrat charges which have absolutely devastated the wonderful Jackson family. Tester should resign.”
“Sen. Jon Tester engaged in character assassination against a decorated rear admiral in the United States Navy, and he didn’t have a shred of evidence to back it up,” said deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah on Friday.
Tester’s office declined to comment Friday evening, although Tester has defended the release of the information.
Tester said in a brief interview Thursday on Capitol Hill that he “absolutely” stands by his decision to release the detailed list of allegations.
“Look, there was information, there was a pattern to the information,” Tester said. Referring to the news media, he added: “People like you were asking me a bunch of questions. I thought it was the right thing.”
Although the allegations were released by Democrats, their nature and lack of public evidence to support them has also raised questions about the role of Senate Republicans, notably Johnny Isakson (Ga.), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Isakson knew of the investigation that Tester, the committee’s ranking Democrat, was leading, and did not object to the release.
Long before then, many Republicans, including Isakson, had joined Democrats and veterans advocates in expressing concern about Jackson’s qualifications to lead VA. A former combat doctor who served in Iraq, Jackson has been widely criticized as having too little management experience to run the sprawling, complex and politically fraught VA bureaucracy. It was unclear whether his nomination would have succeeded if the allegations had not surfaced.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who also is on the committee, said he wished a public record of the allegations against Jackson had emerged, perhaps in the form of a congressional hearing.
But Moran said he had “no complaints” about what Tester did. “People brought him information. It’s important for us to know,” Moran said. Assessing the truth of those allegations “would take more steps in the process than have occurred,” he said.
Moran said his impression was that Isakson and Tester were in frequent contact, but “I did not know what the allegations were in any detail except through the press and then what statement Senator Tester released.”
White House officials also said Tester never sought to ask Jackson about any of the allegations before releasing them. They said he also never asked anyone at the White House about the crash or any other specific allegation before Tester and Isakson made a broad request of the White House on Tuesday morning for details of Jackson’s tenure there. The committee’s Democratic staff released the allegations the next day — not nearly enough time, White House officials said, to properly respond to the request.
Tester has said publicly that he relayed the allegations to White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly.
On Friday, the White House produced records of three minor traffic incidents involving Jackson, and officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about an internal investigation, said no other records exist. Jackson was not found at fault in any of the incidents — one involved a bus swiping off Jackson’s side view mirror — and he reported each of them to his supervisor immediately, officials said. Jackson drives to and from work in a government vehicle outfitted with sirens and other equipment in case he needs to respond to a presidential emergency, several officials said.
The White House also produced more than two years’ worth of audits of the White House Medical Unit’s handling of prescriptions and medications, all of which showed no problems.
White House officials also denied an accusation in the Tester memo that Jackson had allowed “ineligible” administration officials to receive care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The officials said many senior White House officials are entitled to medical treatment at work, including treatment from specialists at Walter Reed.
These officials also said that Jackson told them this week that the accounts of drinking are inaccurate. Several current and former medical unit employees told The Post and other news outlets that they witnessed Jackson drinking on foreign trips. But several White House officials said doctors are permitted to drink alcohol if they are not on duty and if there is more than one doctor traveling, as there always is on foreign trips, they said. Jackson told them that he never drank while on duty or on a domestic trip while he was the only doctor.
In response to inquiries earlier Friday, a Tester aide reiterated that every line item in the two-page summary was alleged by more than one source, although the aide did not specify whether every source had direct knowledge of the pertinent allegations. The committee also had documentation for some of the charges, the aide said — though it was unknown which ones.
Two more people have come forward to complain to the committee about Jackson since the document’s release Wednesday afternoon, bringing the total number of people to 25, according to Tester’s office.
Sean Sullivan and Lisa Rein contributed to this report.