Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson has withdrawn as President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said in a statement Thursday morning.
His nomination was hampered by a flurry of allegations about Jackson’s professional conduct.
In a statement announcing his withdrawal, Jackson slammed allegations of improper behavior leveled against him as “completely false and fabricated.”
“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,” Jackson said. “Going into this process, I expected tough questions about how to best care for our veterans, but I did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity.”
Jackson said he was motivated to withdraw from consideration because the allegations against him “have become a distraction” for Trump and his agenda.
“Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this President and the important issue we must be addressing — how we give the best care to our nation’s heroes,” Jackson said. “While I will forever be grateful for the trust and confidence President Trump has placed in me by giving me this opportunity, I am regretfully withdrawing my nomination to be Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
Speaking on “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning, Trump said Jackson’s withdrawal was not unexpected.
“I even told him a day or two ago I saw where this was going,” Trump said.
On Wednesday evening, the release of a two-page document written by Democratic staff on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that included a list of allegations from the committee’s conversations with nearly two dozen of Jackson’s former and current colleagues made Jackson’s chances at survival more uncertain.
According to the summary released by Senate Democrats — the contents of which remain under investigation by lawmakers and have not yet been substantiated — Jackson was allegedly “abusive” to his colleagues, loosely handled prescription pain medications and was periodically intoxicated, even once wrecking a government vehicle while drunk.
Jackson has not responded to the allegations in their totality, but told reporters on Wednesday that he did not wreck the government car and had indicated at the time that he planned to continue in the nominating process.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee had raised concerns this week about allegations involving Jackson, the White House physician, and had started to review the allegations in an effort to determine whether they were sufficient to upend his nomination.
Jackson had been expected to appear on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a confirmation hearing, but that hearing was postponed indefinitely as members were assessing allegations about the White House physician’s behavior.
Whistleblowers who spoke to the panel described a “toxic” work environment under Jackson’s leadership and questionable behavior, including excessive drinking, CNN has reported.
On Wednesday, before the allegations from the Democratic staff of the veterans’ panel became public, the White House mounted a robust defense of Jackson, with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders telling reporters he had an “impeccable” record. Sanders suggested that Jackson’s current position as the White House physician meant that he had been more thoroughly vetted than other Cabinet nominees.
At one point on Wednesday, Trump raised the prospect of going into the briefing room himself to stick up for Jackson, to say that he is a good guy and had his support. But several senior administration officials, including Sanders, advised against that move.
But later Wednesday, after the allegations included in that Democratic document were released, Trump himself began to wonder out loud whether Jackson should step aside “before things get worse” and White House aides were preparing for that possibility, officials told CNN.