VA Nominee Ronny Jackson Under Fire for Workplace Misconduct

The White House physician is accused of excessive drinking on the job and improperly dispensing medication among other offenses.

When President Trump nominated the White House physician to run the Veterans’ Affairs behemoth, many questioned whether he was up to the task. Now, there are serious allegations about how he’s handled his current post. The reporting is mostly murky.

CNN (“Scramble for answers as Ronny Jackson allegations threaten to upend nomination“):

Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee are raising concerns about allegations involving Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the department of Veterans Affairs 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.

The sources say the committee is in talks to delay Wednesday’s confirmation hearing as they try to figure out the allegations.

None of the senators would publicly detail the specifics of the allegations. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Two Republican sources with direct knowledge of the situation say the White House is aware that both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are looking into potential problems. Republican lawmakers and aides on the committee say they are also grappling with the allegations, trying to assess what they mean for Jackson’s nomination to the post.

Senate Democrats huddled privately Monday in a basement office in the Capitol to discuss “raw allegations” that have been raised against Jackson.

“There are reasons, as there are with every presidential appointee, for very close scrutiny and vetting. We need to know if allegations raised by others may have some factual basis. That’s the process of vetting that has to occur,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, as he left the meeting, which lasted about a half hour.

“We need to be asking questions and there need to be answers,” he added. “At this point we are dealing with some fairly raw allegations and we need to know if there is factual support for it.”

“All I can really tell you at this moment time is we are continuing the vetting process. We are working very hard at it. It’s all hands on deck,” said Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the top Democrat on the committee.

Asked if the allegations were troubling, Tester replied, “Only if true.” Asked if Democrats could determine if the allegations are true before Wednesday’s hearing or if he would need to meet with Jackson again, Tester responded, ‘We’ll see.”

That’s not much to go on. My natural suspicion, given the spate of #MeToo revelations in recent months, was that there were some allegations of sexual misconduct. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

POLITICO (“Ronny Jackson’s VA nomination on the rocks“) is similarly vague:

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson’s nomination to be Veterans Affairs secretary may be in trouble, according to senators and aides in both parties.

Republicans are considering postponing his confirmation hearing this week as senators pore over potentially new negative information that committee members have received, according to GOP sources familiar with the matter. And Senate Democrats are digging into his record after being made aware of potential new problems with the nomination.

[…]

Republicans and Democrats alike have been talking over the weekend, and in person on Monday, about the potential for allegations to derail Jackson’s nomination, senators said. But the nature of discussions now going on about the material is “conversational,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

Tillis suggested that the Jackson confirmation hearing scheduled for Wednesday may be “pushed back pending a review of some of this stuff that, like I said, I’ve only heard on a conversational basis. I think that’s where we’ll spend our time this week.”

[…]

Axios was first to report that new information about Jackson’s “professional conduct” was taken to Tester earlier this month.

Democrats declined to comment on the severity of the allegations that have been presented to the committee about Jackson.

“We’re going to vet him. The Trump administration doesn’t do a particularly good job,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), another committee member. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

WaPo (“Senate to postpone confirmation hearing for Ronny Jackson to head Veterans Affairs, White House officials told“) adds,

Senate lawmakers have postponed the confirmation hearing for Ronny L. Jackson, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, after top Republicans and Democrats raised concerns about his qualifications and oversight of the White House medical staff, White House and other administration officials were told Monday.

The development came just two days before Jackson, the White House physician, was scheduled to testify before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and threw what was looking to be a difficult confirmation process into further jeopardy.

In addition to Jackson’s lack of management experience, the former combat surgeon had come under fire for his glowing appraisal of Trump’s health following his annual physical in January. Jackson said then that the president might live to the age of 200 with a healthier diet. In recent days, fresh concerns arose about Jackson’s management of the White House medical office, said the officials, who declined to provide details.

Finally, the CBS report (“Democrats reviewing allegations against VA nominee Ronny Jackson“) sheds some useful light:

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs committee is reviewing allegations he’s hearing about Ronny Jackson, the White House physician and President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was unclear late Monday whether the Senate panel would postpone Jackson’s confirmation hearing, which was scheduled for Wednesday, in light of stories about the nominee told by current or former White House medical staff.

Sources familiar with the tales say Sen. Jon Tester’s committee staff is reviewing multiple allegations of a “hostile work environment.” The accusations include “excessive drinking on the job, improperly dispensing meds,” said one of the people familiar, who was granted anonymity to speak frankly about the situation. The other people familiar with the stories also confirmed those details.

If proven true, “it’ll sink his nomination,” said one of the sources.

It should be noted that Jackson is not a Trump crony but a career Navy officer who has served as a physician to three successive presidents. Still, if the allegations prove true this will be yet another case of a stellar career ruined by being nominated to a higher profile post by this President.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Everything trump touches turns to fecal matter.




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  2. CSK says:

    This nomination was so typical of Trump’s way of doing business: Appoint someone not because he’s knowledgeable, qualified, and experienced, but because he said flattering things about you in public.




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  3. Timothy Watson says:

    “It should be noted that Jackson is not a Trump crony”

    Admiral Jackson’s comments before the White House Press Corps would certainly leave that comment open to dispute.




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  4. KM says:

    @Timothy Watson :
    Indeed. It’s one thing to go up there and state positive things about the President’s health (if true) but quite another to obviously asskiss about “great genes” when that’s a known conceit for the man in question. Trump’s health isn’t “excellent” – now, if he were running marathons at his age with his diet, that’s excellence!!

    A physician that drinks on the job is a *problem*, period but someone’s who’s essentially a first responder is even worse. He’s responsible for the health of POTUS and may need to jump into action at any time, up to and including emergency surgery. I’m no Trump fan but I’d never wish a drunk doctor on anyone in their time of need. Also, unless Trump’s the reason he’s recently drinking (possible but very unlikely as the word “excess” was used), this is Jackson’s own doing. Nobody puts the bottle in your hand but you and nobody can put it down but you.




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  5. James Joyner says:

    @Timothy Watson: He certainly sucked up to Trump in his health report. But I doubt they’d met before Trump got elected President; Jackson’s a career Navy man.




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  6. gVOR08 says:

    The White House physician is accused of excessive drinking on the job…

    How much drinking on the job is regarded as normal for a doctor and naval officer? Or do people working under Trump get some, understandable, dispensation to drink on the job?




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  7. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08:

    How much drinking on the job is regarded as normal for a doctor and naval officer?

    That was my first reaction but there are numerous social functions, sometimes during normal office hours, where it’s acceptable for an officer—and, I’d imagine, even a doctor—to have a couple of drinks.

    @KM:

    A physician that drinks on the job is a *problem*, period but someone’s who’s essentially a first responder is even worse. He’s responsible for the health of POTUS and may need to jump into action at any time, up to and including emergency surgery.

    I don’t think that even an ER doc is obligated to be 100% sober all the time. There are other docs on staff and, presumably, they would coordinate for social functions and the like. If he’s drinking beyond that—and, one imagines, that’s what’s being alleged—then, absolutely, it’s a huge problem.




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  8. Franklin says:

    I’ll withhold an opinion until further information is provided. Most of my current view of Jackson is informed by SNL.




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  9. CSK says:

    A couple of drinks at a party is nothing. Leaving the examining room to take a slug from the fifth of vodka you have hidden in your desk is quite another thing.




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  10. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    He doesn’t need to have been a Trump Toady beforehand, he obviously suffers from Weak White Man Syndrome, (WWMS) an unfortunately common affliction that causes white men to lose all sense of self and abandon all dignity once exposed to Trump’s macho charms.

    I hate being ‘part of” any group, but the set of all white men does include me and I’m not enjoying the association. If we’re not jerking off into houseplants, or crying because no one will let us say n–er, or faking back pain to get fentanyl, we’re groveling at the feet of a buffoon.

    I predicted this decades ago, the collapse of the male, but watching it play out in real time is more nauseating than sad. In our decline we are not a pretty sight. Less like the waning of Gondor, more like a plague of Gollums. Much more groveling and self-abasement than one would wish for. I’m glad John Wayne didn’t live to see this.




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  11. Kathy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Yes, but I don’t think it’s a reverse Midas touch, so much as a type of anti-Midas attraction: he attracts people and things like that, or they are drawn to him.

    Just to be safe, though, don’t ever shake hands with him.




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  12. CSK says:

    @Kathy:

    Trump is famous for his dislike of shaking hands.




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  13. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    I’d say that’s a sign of a guilty conscience. But this is Trump. What conscience?




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  14. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    I don’t think that even an ER doc is obligated to be 100% sober all the time.

    I can’t speak for all medical organizations but every one I have been associated with expects all doctors even on call to abstain from any alcohol, much less one that is actively working. It’s interesting to note that there were only two types of things that showed up when searching on physician use of alcohol while on duty: Hospital policies, which uniformly considered it a fire-able offense, and discussions about what to do about “impaired physicians”. Even on the “on call” side, there is a lot of skepticism. Here is a quote from a paper researching this in the Journal of Medical Ethics:

    the present approach of the American Medical Association to prohibit practicing medicine under the influence of alcohol requires a prohibition of drinking alcohol while on call, unless studies determine a clear threshold for drinking alcohol without placing patients at risk.

    And here’s a survey of physicians asking whether they have used alcohol while on call:

    Most doctors were against drinking any alcohol while on call (table), but 14% felt that social drinking was acceptable, and one fourth thought that in their specialty some alcohol use is safe. In response to asking how many drinks a doctor in their specialty could safely drink while on call, 94/129 (73%) answered 0, 12/129 (9%) answered 1, 5/129 (4%) answered 2, 6/129 (5%) answered 3, and 13/129 (10%) answered 4 or more. A quarter admitted to drinking alcohol while on call, and 64% and 27% reported having encountered colleagues whom they suspected had used or were impaired by alcohol while on call, respectively.

    I should add that I can’t imagine a surgeon who thought it was acceptable to have a drink if there was any chance they would be operating.




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  15. al-Ameda says:

    The White House physician is accused of excessive drinking on the job and improperly dispensing medication among other offenses.

    The next nominee to head up the VA will probably be someone like
    Ted Nugent, Scott Baio, or Gary Busey.




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  16. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I can’t speak for all medical organizations but every one I have been associated with expects all doctors even on call to abstain from any alcohol, much less one that is actively working.

    Oh, of course. But there’s “working” and “working.” That is, I can imagine circumstances where a Navy doctor is on duty but at an office social function where consumption of alcohol is permissible. Obviously, there would have to be doctors who are truly “on duty” who would have to abstain.




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  17. MarkedMan says:

    Okay, this is a Lucy van Pelt level of psychoanalysis, but I was curious about Jackson from the moment he made such a fool of himself over Trump. I didn’t know you could become an Admiral without ever overseeing a significant group of people but it appears you can. Still, I assumed that the position of physician to the president required intelligence and impulse control of a very high degree. Instead we had Jackson getting so far ahead of his skis on the press conference and then accepting this crazy VA appointment. (And yes, he has to be crazy to accept it. If someone made me the FDA head Congress would be right to reject my appointment regardless of the fact that I’m a wonderful person with a tangential medical regulation background. I would be crazy to accept the position knowing the beat down that was coming.)

    Jackson shows lack of impulse control and his haste in accepting the nomination could be interpreted as a desperation to leave. If he feels that he has been shunted into the final position of his career and is making a mess of that, then his desperate behavior seems more understandable.




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  18. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    That is, I can imagine circumstances where a Navy doctor is on duty but at an office social function where consumption of alcohol is permissible.

    We may be interpreting “on duty” differently here. I’m not talking about the military meaning of “on duty”. If that’s what you mean, I can certainly see your point and you obviously know those norms better than I. But let’s take his specific position as physician to the president here. I would assume that sometimes he is “On Duty” in the medical sense, meaning that he is at work doing whatever he does when he’s not giving Trump a prostrate exam and is expected to be the first responder in a crisis, up to and including emergency site surgery. I can’t imagine any physician saying it would be OK to have a drink in those circumstances. And given the 24 hour nature of the job, sometimes another physician must be the primary but he is the secondary, or “on call”. Again, I can’t conceive of a physician at such a high position thinking that it is OK to have a drink while on call. Given that medical organizations say that it shouldn’t be done, and that (I assume) all hospitals view it as a fireable offense, the message that would be sent by a leader to be seen in public with a drink in his hand while on duty or on call (in the medical sense) would be devastating.

    I should point out that despite the reports I have no opinion on whether Jackson ever exhibited such behavior. Even if it’s not just some FOAF (friend of a friend) story that got better with the telling, only people privy to the medical rotation schedule would know if he was on call or on duty. I may be naive, but given his relatively lengthy tenure in the roll I’d be astonished that the military would keep him in such a high profile position if he had publicly violated ethical norms on a regular basis.




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  19. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: Yes, we’re in agreement across the board here. And, really, I’m thinking of him mostly as a Naval officer whose job description is that of a physician. There are just instances where a Naval officer can be on duty and some amount of drinking is permissible; and I’d think those instances could obtain even if one is a Navy physician. If he’s performing his actual duties in that capacity under the influence, it’s obviously unacceptable.




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  20. KM says:

    @MarkedMan :
    At some of the galas we’ve hosted there was a Do Not Serve list provided to the waitstaff that included pictures for reference. This usually occurred when there was a suspicion of impending crisis like inclement weather on the horizon or a major event happening elsewhere. It wasn’t personal commentary but rather all of individuals who had the even slightest chance of recall that night. Everyone on the list understood and didn’t take it personally; they also had the option of attempting to secure a replacement but most just decided they could forgo for the night.

    You’re right about the prevalent skepticism as well. You’d get some serious side eye for even bringing it up in most quarters. Doctors take on-call seriously and know that “just one” can put you in a place where you make a life-ruining decision. It’s really just not worth it. For the word “excessive” to be invoked is extremely telling. It’s more then “just one” and far more often then even the more permissive staff would like. It’s got to be really pushing it for the other staff to rat like that – medical staff are notoriously cliquey.




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  21. MarkedMan says:

    @KM: Thanks for the input. I have to admit that if I was ever to find myself as the personal physician to a president (probably not likely as I’m not even a doctor, so could only happen in the Trump White House where qualifications don’t matter) I would just give up alcohol for the duration. Any call that you make is going to be scrutinized to the nth degree if the patient has a bad outcome and I assume you would be consulted during any medical crisis regardless of the time of day or location of the prez.




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  22. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    jerking off into houseplants

    https://youtu.be/zH5zPkECIiQ




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  23. Gustopher says:

    Excessive drinking on the job AND improperly dispensing meds? That makes me wonder if he is improperly dispensing the meds to himself, and mixing them with alcohol.

    It’s idle speculation, of course, but given how much of a sh.t show this administration is, it seems like the obvious sad and ridiculous headline that will come out of this. Along with Republican Senators commenting that it is perfectly normal, and that given the number of veterans with drug and alcohol problems, this just means he understands them better.




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  24. steve says:

    When things were slow in the OR, we used to go to the O club for lunch. Some of the surgeons and internists would have a drink or two if they were going back to do office work (not if going back to the OR, or at least not that I saw). Alcohol used to be a lot more central to military culture than it is now. (I was a bit prudish about this, but then I also exclusively worked in the OR or ICU. I enjoy a beer or a good glass of wine, but why not wait until you go home?)

    I am guessing that Jackson’s job is fairly slow, and he has a lot of administrative time if he is the POTUS physician. May be considered socially acceptable to have drink at lunch if you are just doing paperwork. Remember the old 2 martini business lunch?

    I would actually expect James to have a feel for this since you teach officers. Still OK to grab a beer at lunch on duty?

    Steve




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  25. Pete S says:

    The “excessive drinking” is bad enough, but it would go a long way to explaining the idea that the president would live to be 200 if he would just take a little better care of himself.

    But “improperly dispensing meds” seems like a whole magnitude worse. Doesn’t this get perilously close to the behaviours that the president was suggesting should be addressed by executions, depending on exactly what is being described?




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  26. The New York Times just posted a report providing some more detail regarding the issues surrounding Jackson’s tenure as White House Physician.

    On top of the questions regarding what, exactly, qualifies him for what is more of an administrative position than a medical one, this seems fairly serious.




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  27. James Joyner says:

    @steve: I’m in a rather unique environment in that the official “duty” day can often end relatively early. While I’m expected to put in a full day, students may well be gone by noon. In which case, having a beer or two at lunch on occasion is fine. Hell, I’ve had the occasional off-site seminar at a restaurant and we’ve had beer during those (once or twice a year; hardly a regular event).

    In the operating forces, that’s essentially never okay. In fact, in most situations, you’d be hard-pressed to find a place on base that serves alcohol at lunchtime. (The Officers’ Club usually doesn’t start serving until after 1600.)

    But, really, I’m thinking more of days like yesterday, when we had a school picnic/soccer game starting at 1230 or various staff calls or promotion parties and the like that commence at 1530 or 1600 and are followed by social hours where alcohol is permissible.




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  28. de stijl says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    My thought exactly. The White House motor pool has some excellent mechanics, I’m sure. They do not deserve to head the DoT.




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  29. Erik says:

    @MarkedMan: the physician to the president and the physician to Congress both are admirals by virtue of being named to the position. If I remember correctly they can retire from the position and keep the rank, but if they leave the position without retiring they revert to their previous rank.

    It is also worth noting that Jackson happens to be an emergency physician, but that is not required for the post. In any event he would not be doing any emergency surgery, although he is, theoretically at least, qualified to be a trauma initial responder.




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  30. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    I my ‘office’ I have a strict rule against drinking or getting high unless work is done. Is it my fault if work is usually done by 2 PM? I’m rewarding productivity!




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  31. KM says:

    Keep in mind there’s also a perception aspect to all this. People aren’t thinking of him as administrator or military person but as a physician. Ask your average voter how they feel about a doctor drinking on the job and watch the fireworks go off. Concerns about competency would be the least of their worries.

    The entire point of the office is immediate medical care on demand for the POTUS, his family and the WH staff. Alleging that care is often compromised by drinking, however much or litle, and offering the rationale because Jackson’s more of a paper-pusher now then full time physician means it’s not too bad is….. going to cause some issues. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a conspiracy theory that the Deep State can do something to the President because his doctor’s a “drunk” and won’t notice /care. There’s already nonsense out there that they’re drugging him and that’s why he makes decisions Trumpkins don’t like – do we really need to give them anything else to latch onto?




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  32. Mister Bluster says:

    Ronny Jackson’s VA nomination on the rocks

    The reporting may be murky but the headline tells all.




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  33. The Language Police says:

    I’m not sure how well I think that “stellar career” and “excessive drinking on the job, [and] improperly dispensing meds” go together in the same statement. But it’s ironic that he might have been able to go until retirement never being discovered (assuming the accounts are true) without the good word and promotion from our pseudo POTUS.




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  34. teve tory says:

    @The Language Police:

    He has a good reputation, trump gets near him, a short time later his life is a smoking crater.

    This is a cliche by now.




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  35. MarkedMan says:

    @teve tory: Absolutely correct. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am astounded at the number of people who think they can gain by their association with Trump. There absolutely is no upside in direct contact with this POTUS. Everyone, and I mean everyone, comes away soiled and demeaned.

    (When I wrote the above, it just said “everyone” once. I thought to myself, ‘maybe I’m exaggerating’, and leaned back and thought long and hard. And ended up writing that, “and I mean everyone”.)




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  36. Kylopod says:

    @MarkedMan: I started asking that question last summer:

    It’s stuff like this that merely adds to the question I’ve had for a while: why would anyone want to work for him at this point? You have to be some kind of masochist. You lose every last shred of dignity you may have once had, you set yourself up to be publicly humiliated, and you’re in great danger of having him throw you the wolves at any time, which usually happens when he wants a scapegoat for his own incompetence, because as we all know nothing is ever Trump’s fault. Look at the way he turned Priebus into his butt-boy, or his attacks and threats against Jeff Sessions, or that cringe-worthy recent line from Elaine Chao “I stand by my man–both of them” after he publicly lashed out at her husband. To call him a Boss from Hell would almost be too kind. He’s more Boss from the Land of Eternal Stench.

    In a sense, our bewilderment has been borne out. Fewer and fewer people are going to work for Trump. It helps explain why his administration is understaffed. Then there’s the recent report that Trump is having trouble finding lawyers. It’s not that Trump’s case is too challenging–high-powered attorneys normally love that sort of thing. It’s what they build their reputation on. Rather, the problem is that they’re not inclined to work for a guy who doesn’t reliably listen to what they tell him to do. Even toddlers are easier to handle.




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  37. wr says:

    @al-Ameda: “The next nominee to head up the VA will probably be someone likeTed Nugent, Scott Baio, or Gary Busey.”

    Yes, but don’t forget, Scott Baio played a doctor on the first few seasons of Diagnosis Murder.




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  38. Andy says:

    The problem with this nominee is his complete lack of experience in leading organizations, much less a large and complex one like the VA. I don’t care as much about drinking “on duty while traveling.”




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  39. An Interested Party says:

    The Orange Disaster really is a slimy creep…why would anyone give him loyalty…




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  40. MarkedMan says:

    It looks like there was a negative report on him in 2012 and a suggestion to replace him. Again it shows a lack of foresight and judgement on his part to simply trust the Trump White House would see him through a highly contentious process. Here’s an excerpt:

    The report, reviewed Tuesday by The Associated Press, suggested the White House consider replacing Jackson or Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman — or both. Kuhlman was the physician to President Barack Obama at the time.

    The six-page report by the Navy’s Medical Inspector General found a lack of trust in the leadership and low morale among staff members, who described the working environment as “being caught between parents going through a bitter divorce.”

    “There is a severe and pervasive lack of trust in the leadership that has deteriorated to the point that staff walk on ‘eggshells,’” the report found.




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  41. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @KM: “The doctor came in, stinking of gin, and proceeded to lie on the table.” (h/t: Lennon and McCartney)




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  42. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “It should be noted that Jackson is not a Trump crony but a career Navy officer who has served as a physician to three successive presidents.”

    James, it’s clear that he was a liar after he lied about Trump’s health and weight. After that it was only a question of what other stuff he had done, and would it come out.

    His career wasn’t ruined by being nominated by Trump, except in the sense that if you have done a lot of bad stuff, avoid the spotlight.




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