Republicans are taking to the airwaves in Montana to help make good on President Trump’s vow to seek revenge against Sen. Jon Tester for his role in upending Ronny L. Jackson’s bid to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.
An television ad sponsored by a super PAC aligned with Trump lambastes the Montana Democrat, who faces a tough reelection bid in November, as “disgraceful” and accuses him of recklessly releasing damaging allegations about Jackson’s stewardship of the White House medical unit.
“In Montana, we value integrity and support our president,” the 30-second spot from America First Action says. “But Jon Tester spread false information about a respected Navy admiral, helping D.C. Democrats derail President Trump’s Veterans Affairs nominee.”
The spot goes on to say that Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, “betrayed our trust, our veterans and our president.”
A separate digital ad planned by the National Republican Senatorial Committee also targets Tester, saying, “Trump is right. It’s time for Jon Tester to go.” It also calls Tester a “disgrace” and features clips of the president criticizing him.
The ads are part of an effort by Trump and his allies to undermine Tester, who has continued to defend his decision to release unverified allegations from people who spoke to his staff about Jackson, who served as a physician to three presidents.
The allegations created a portrait of a long history of professional misconduct and included claims that Jackson had a “pattern” of distributing medication with no patient history and that he crashed a government vehicle while intoxicated after a Secret Service going-away party.
Jackson has denied the allegations, and the White House has said it could find no evidence of the car crash. Jackson withdrew his nomination last week, but remains on the White House medical team. A new VA nominee has not been named.
During an interview with “Fox & Friends” last week, Trump said Tester would “have a big price to pay” with voters in Montana, a state Trump carried by more than 20 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
“I want to tell you that Jon Tester, I think this is going to cause him a lot of problems in his state,” Trump told the hosts of the Fox News program.
During a campaign-style rally in Michigan on Saturday night, Trump hit Tester again, claiming to have damaging information about him.
In an interview with The Washington Post last week, Tester declined to swing back at Trump.
“My response is that I was sent here to do a job of vetting and confirming,” the senator said. “We’re going to continue to do that job and we’re going to continue to get the best possible person we can to run the VA.”
In defense of his actions, Tester said: “Look, there was information. There was a pattern to the information.” He said that he felt compelled to answer reporters’ questions.
Tester campaign manager Christie Roberts dismissed the attack ads.
“This is just politics,” she told the Associated Press. “Jon is relentless in holding government accountable, and he will continue to fight for veterans to make sure they have the services they need and have earned.”
The White House broadside against Tester also has included a call into a Montana radio show on Monday by Marc Short, Trump’s legislative affairs director.
Although Tester “likes to have an image back home as being bipartisan,” Short said that the senator had voted against other Trump nominees. Short went on to claim that Tester had “fallen in line” with an “obstruction pattern” led by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Short also took to Twitter on Tuesday, writing that “Rear Admiral Jackson and his family have devoted their lives in service to our country. Sen. Tester should be ashamed of pushing false allegations against a great American patriot.”
Seung Min Kim and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.