WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s physician Ronny Jackson withdrew on Thursday from the nomination to head the Department of Veterans Affairs after allegations about misconduct mounted and a Senate panel postponed his confirmation hearing.
“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,” Jackson said in a statement.
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs was investigating allegations that Jackson, who has been physician to three presidents, had overseen a hostile work environment as White House physician, drank on the job and allowed the overprescribing of drugs.
Details about the allegations against Trump’s nominee to lead the federal government’s second-largest agency were compiled in a document by Democratic committee staff that surfaced on Wednesday.
Jackson prescribed himself medications, got drunk at a Secret Service party, wrecked a government vehicle and once could not be reached on a work trip to provide medical treatment because he was passed out drunk in a hotel room, a summary of the document said.
“The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated … 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.
Jackson, 50, has worked as a presidential physician since the George W. Bush administration, and has been the lead doctor for Trump as well as former President Barack Obama. He is well-liked by both Republican and Democratic administration officials.
The U.S. Navy rear admiral and Iraq war veteran took on a higher profile when he gave a long and glowing news conference about Trump’s health in January after his first presidential medical exam.
Jackson’s qualifications to lead the sprawling Veterans Affairs department were questioned from the time Trump nominated him in late March. The agency has 350,000 employees and runs 1,700 facilities that serve more than 9 million veterans a year.
The department has long been under fire for the quality of healthcare it provides veterans, a group that carries considerable political clout in America. During his election campaign, Trump vowed to clean it up.
The Senate committee considering his nomination asked the White House this week for more information after initial allegations about Jackson’s conduct came to light.
Trump on Tuesday said during a news conference that he did not know the details of the allegations, but said it was up to Jackson whether to continue with a political process he called “too ugly and too disgusting.”
Trump acknowledged that Jackson had an “experience problem” for leading the sprawling department which has long faced criticism for the quality of its care and the bureaucracy that veterans encounter.
Trump fired former VA Secretary David Shulkin after concerns about unauthorized travel expenses.
Reporting by Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Grant McCool