Whistleblowers spoke to lawmakers about VA nominee

Posted at 9:41 AM, Apr 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-24 11:41:37-04

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee members are assessing allegations from whistleblowers that have told the panel about nominee Ronny Jackson’s questionable behavior including excessive drinking and a "toxic" work environment under his leadership, according to two former White House medical staff members who have spoken with the committee.

Both sources who spoke with CNN told the committee about behavior they observed while working in the White House medical unit.

Lawmakers who spoke with CNN expressed worries that this could represent a pattern of behavior and not a collection of isolated incidents.

In addition, committee staff have been in contact with individuals associated with additional allegations regarding the handling of prescriptions by the White House Medical Unit and a workplace survey that was done because of issues in the unit under Jackson, according to congressional sources. The accounts come from former and at least one current associate of Jackson, according to the sources.

The accusations have roiled the nomination process leading to the postponement of a hearing scheduled for Wednesday. Wednesday’s hearing. However the committee has not substantiated the claims, with little documentation available to back the claims.

An official downplayed the accusation of a toxic work environment saying a workplace survey was done in 2012 after Jackson was promoted and some people in his office complained about work environment. That report didn’t address alcohol or patient care.

A source on the panel said lawmakers are asking for documents from the FBI, including his background check. And, the source said, the senators plan to request documents from relevant agencies that may be aware of his past job performance.

The White House Medical Unit oversees the medical care for the President, his family and administration aides. It includes a team of doctors and nurses and operates from a suite of offices in the basement of the White House residence.

Prior to that announcement from lawmakers to postpone the hearing, the White House said it was standing by Jackson.

"Admiral Jackson has been on the front lines of deadly combat and saved the lives of many others in service to this country," Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement Tuesday morning.

Gidley continued, "He’s served as the physician to three Presidents — Republican and Democrat — and been praised by them all. Admiral Jackson’s record of strong, decisive leadership is exactly what’s needed at the VA to ensure our veterans receive the benefits they deserve."

The White House said they had no further comment.

Lawmakers leading the confirmation announced on Tuesday morning that the hearings will be delayed indefinitely, following allegations related to improper conduct in various stages of Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson’s career.

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson and the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, made the announcement on Capitol Hill. The two committee leaders said they want more information about the allegations of misconduct involving Jackson. They declined to discuss the nature of the allegations — and both men stopped short of calling on him to withdraw.

CNN reported Monday that lawmakers from both parties on the committee are raising concerns about allegations involving Jackson and are reviewing them to determine if they are substantial enough to upend his nomination. Committee members have been told about allegations related to improper conduct in various stages of his career, two sources said.

Combine that series of allegations that one GOP senator told CNN would be "devastating" if true, with overall ambivalence that bordered on opposition by Republicans and things are not in a good place for Jackson.

Two sources with knowledge told CNN that Isakson called the White House at one point in the past few days not just to raise concerns about Jackson, but to suggest the point may be coming where they would need to pull his nomination for another prospect.

GOP aides that spoke with CNN Monday night were characterizing this nomination going down as a "when," not "if," situation.

Democrats huddled privately over these allegations Monday night.

The bigger issue: the allegations are a trigger, not the sole reason, for Republicans to bail on this nomination. For weeks committee Republicans have been grumbling about the White House dropping Jackson, who they viewed as unsuited for the job, on their respective laps.

Several GOP aides described their bosses as willing to hold off from criticism until the hearing in deference to the President’s selection. Now they’re confronted with these allegations and Jackson doesn’t have many allies on the Hill willing to protect him.

Monday’s news left lawmakers and their staff scrambling, as both sides are trying to figure out what’s true. As one senior Republican aide put it: "A mess. A complete, utter mess."

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