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Monday, Aug 20, 2018
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VA nominee considers withdrawing as new allegations emerge of drinking, wrecking government vehicle

WASHINGTON — White House physician Ronny Jackson has grown frustrated with the nomination process to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs and has told colleagues he may remove his name from consideration, two White House officials with knowledge of his deliberations told the Washington Post.

Jackson’s indecision was brewing even before Capitol Hill Democrats on Wednesday released new allegations of professional misconduct, including the claim that Jackson had wrecked a government vehicle after getting drunk at a Secret Service going away party.

The allegations were contained in a two-page document described by the Democratic staff of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee as a summary of interviews with 23 of Jackson’s current and former colleagues. The document also described Jackson’s "pattern" of handing out medication with no patient history, writing himself prescriptions and contributing to a hostile work environment with "a constant fear of reprisal."

One White House official said Jackson is growing weary of a process that has been besieged from the start. Veteran advocates and many lawmakers have expressed concerns about the former combat physician’s lack of management experience, and some have worried that he would capitulate to President Donald Trump’s goal of outsourcing more veteran services.

On Wednesday, Jackson quickly denied crashing a vehicle. In private, he alternated between contemplating an end to his bid and striking a pugnacious tone, according to several White House officials, telling colleagues he hopes to defend himself even if he can’t win confirmation.

The Democrats’ document provided no evidence for the allegations nor an explanation of the methodology of the investigation, which has been spearheaded by the office of Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. According to Tester’s staff, every allegation has been substantiated by at least two people.

The memo does not provide specifics on when some of the alleged incidents occurred. It also presents a stark contrast to the stellar portrait offered by Jackson’s defenders, who have described previous allegations as a smear job.

"Am I a 100 percent rock solid sure that he did this? No," Tester said on MSNBC. "But I’ve seen a pattern here that continues on and on and on, and I think it’s important that members of the committee see what I’m seeing."

As for Jackson’s denial that he crashed a vehicle, Tester said, "if he were to admit to that, he’d be done as secretary of the VA."

The White House did not immediately comment on the latest allegations, but earlier Wednesday officials had intensified their defense of Jackson, arguing that his record as a personal physician to the past three presidents was sterling and demanding that he be given an opportunity to personally attest to his character and job performance before the Senate.

"Dr. Jackson’s record as a White House physician has been impeccable," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday. "In fact, because Dr. Jackson has worked within arms’ length of three presidents, he has received more vetting than most nominees."

The Post has independently been told similar stories of misconduct by Jackson as those reported by Tester’s staff, including descriptions that he drank while on duty. Two former White House officials told the Post of instances when Jackson drank while traveling with the president — a violation of the Medical Unit’s policy. On one such occasion, Jackson was preparing to board Air Force One to accompany then-President Barack Obama home from an overseas trip, according to one former White House official who witnessed Jackson’s behavior.

The committee interviews, most of them with uniformed members of the military, "have raised serious concerns about Jackson’s temperament and ethics," the document states, "and cast doubt on his ability to lead the second largest agency in government and one tasked with the sacred mission of fulfilling our commitment to the men and women who have served our nation in uniform and their families."

Whether Jackson will survive the latest round of controversy was unknown; by the end of the day only one lawmaker, Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, had called on Jackson to withdraw.

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