White House Attacks Montana Democrat Jon Tester Over Ronny Jackson Allegations
The White House is pushing back on the allegations of misconduct that were made against Ronny Jackson this week, and trying to use them in a high-profile Senate race in Montana.
Ronny Jackson may have withdrawn his name from consideration as Secretary of Veterans Affairs but the White House is pushing back against the allegations that came out this week that led to that withdrawal, and President Trump is using the allegations as a political cudgel against a vulnerable red-state Democrat:
WASHINGTON — The White House challenged reports that Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, the president’s doctor, had been involved in a drunken driving crash, citing on Friday what it said was a thorough review of vehicle incident reports conducted by administration officials.
On Wednesday, Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, released a list of accusations against Dr. Jackson, including a claim that he had “wrecked” a government car after getting drunk at a Secret Service goodbye party. At the time Mr. Tester released the list, Dr. Jackson was President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Dr. Jackson denied the allegations, but later withdrew from consideration for the cabinet post amid a torrent of other, mostly anonymous, accusations, including accounts that he loosely distributed drugs to White House officials and was a bully to his staff in the White House medical unit.
Raj Shah, a deputy White House press secretary, said Friday that after Mr. Tester’s accusations, officials searched all of the government databases that contain records of accidents involving government vehicles, including at the General Services Administration. He called it a “comprehensive search” for any crashes involving Dr. Jackson and a government vehicle.
Mr. Shah said that the search revealed three episodes, none of which resembled the crash described by Mr. Tester.
In one episode, Mr. Shah said that Dr. Jackson was rear-ended, resulting in a fender bender. In another, a bus sideswiped a side mirror on Dr. Jackson’s car, according to Mr. Shah. The third case was an episode of road rage, Mr. Shah said, in which another person punched through a window on Dr. Jackson’s car.
None sounded like the accusation contained in the document distributed by Mr. Tester: “At a Secret Service going-away party, Jackson got drunk and wrecked a government vehicle.” That allegation was widely reported by news organizations at the time as lawmakers from both parties expressed concern and indefinitely delayed Dr. Jackson’s confirmation hearing.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Tester declined to comment on Friday night.
It was not clear whether the White House’s records search might have missed an episode like the one on Mr. Tester’s list of accusations, or if such an episode might have gone unreported. But White House officials said it would be inconceivable for serious damage to a government vehicle to escape notice and not be recorded.
Meanwhile, ABC News is reporting that the Secret Service says it has no record regarding another allegation against Jackson regarding his behavior on an overseas trip during which he allegedly drunkenly harassed a female White House staffer:
The United States Secret Service says it has no record of an alleged overseas incident involving White House physician Ronny Jackson, who withdrew his name from consideration Thursday to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Secret Service is disputing the allegation, first reported by CNN, that on an overseas trip in 2015 Jackson drunkenly banged on the door of a female colleague so loudly that Secret Service agents had to calm him down so as to not disturb President Barack Obama.
“Over the last 48 hours, media outlets have alleged that U.S. Secret Service personnel were forced to intervene during a Presidential foreign travel assignment in order to prevent disturbing (former) President Barack Obama. The Secret Service has no such record of any incident; specifically, any incident involving Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson,” the Secret Service said in a statement.
The law enforcement agency said it performed a thorough review of internal documents related to all of President Obama’s foreign travel in 2015 and interviewed personnel who were present during those trips. The investigation turned up no information that indicated the allegation is accurate, according to the statement.
On Wednesday, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, wouldn’t talk about this particular incident but said Jackson’s behavior was indicative of a pattern.
“Look I don’t want to get into specifics, but I can tell you there is a pattern of behavior here and several different episodes that would indicate we need to find out what the truth is and get to the bottom of it,” Tester said in an interview with ABC News.
His office declined to comment on the Secret Service statement.
Jackson’s confirmation hearing was postponed indefinitely earlier this week as multiple allegations against Jackson came to light.
In the most detailed account of allegations against Jackson so far, a document provided by Tester’s office says the former VA secretary nominee improperly dispensed medications to others and himself, according to interviews with colleagues and former colleagues, who described him as unethical.
One of the allegations is that Jackson once got drunk and “wrecked” a government car.
Shortly after the document was released, Jackson denied several of the allegations when presented with them by reporters.
The document is based on interviews Democratic committee staffers did with 23 colleagues and former colleagues of Jackson’s, most of whom, Tester’s office says, are still in uniform. The colleagues are cited as describing Jackson as “the most unethical person I have ever worked with,” “100 percent bad temper,” “the worst officer I have ever served with,” someone who would “lose his mind over small things,” “vindictive” and “belittling.”
One staffer at the White House Medical Unit was quoted in the documents as saying working there was the “worst experience of my life.”
The two-page list provided by Democrats is divided into three sections, including one titled “Drunkenness,” which alleges that on at least one occasion during an overseas presidential trip, Jackson could not be reached when needed, while he was “on duty,” because he was passed out drunk in his hotel room.
President Trump, meanwhile, is using these reports and his obvious anger over having one of his nominees humiliated in public to lash out at Montana Senator Jon Tester:
WASHINGTON — President Trump on Saturday called for the resignation of Senator Jon Tester, the Montana Democrat who helped thwart his effort to install the White House physician in the cabinet, suggesting that the president may try to exact retribution in the fall congressional elections in a state that he won by a wide margin.
Two days after the doctor, Ronny L. Jackson, withdrew from consideration for secretary of veterans affairs amid a flurry of reports about his conduct on the job, Mr. Trump made clear he did not intend to let the matter go. In a pair of early morning messages on Twitter, the president said the accusations raised by Mr. Tester against Dr. Jackson were fabricated.
“Allegations made by Senator Jon Tester against Admiral/Doctor Ron Jackson are proving false,” Mr. Trump wrote. “The Secret Service is unable to confirm (in fact they deny) any of the phony Democrat charges which have absolutely devastated the wonderful Jackson family. Tester should resign.”
He added: “The great people of Montana will not stand for this kind of slander when talking of a great human being. Admiral Jackson is the kind of man that those in Montana would most respect and admire, and now, for no reason whatsoever, his reputation has been shattered. Not fair, Tester!”
The president has been sharply criticizing Mr. Tester for days, singling out the Democrat while ignoring Republican opposition that had built to Dr. Jackson’s nomination. Mr. Tester, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, took the lead in publicly questioning Dr. Jackson’s record, but he had the support of Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, the Republican chairman of the committee, who signed a joint statement with him saying the issues should be investigated.
But Mr. Tester is from a red state that in 2016 supported Mr. Trump strongly, giving him 55.6 percent of its votes to 35.4 percent for Hillary Clinton. Even before the flap over Dr. Jackson, Mr. Trump and the Republicans had hoped to use the power of that 20-point margin to defeat Mr. Tester for re-election this fall and defend their narrow 51-seat majority in the Senate.
Mr. Tester this week released a list of accusations against Dr. Jackson alleging loose distribution of prescription drugs, a hostile work environment and drunkenness.
The allegations, Mr. Tester said, were raised by more than 20 current and former military personnel who had worked with Dr. Jackson, whose White House medical unit is run by the military.
Several of those military officials also described their experiences and concerns about Dr. Jackson to reporters, although they could not speak on the record because of their status as members of the military.
Dr. Jackson called the allegations false and had the support not just of Mr. Trump but also of some former aides to President Barack Obama who said they had never observed the alleged behavior while they worked in the White House. But Dr. Jackson pulled his nomination on Thursday, when it became clear he was unlikely to be confirmed.
Here are President Trump’s tweets from this morning:
Allegations made by Senator Jon Tester against Admiral/Doctor Ron Jackson are proving false. The Secret Service is unable to confirm (in fact they deny) any of the phony Democrat charges which have absolutely devastated the wonderful Jackson family. Tester should resign. The…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 28, 2018
….great people of Montana will not stand for this kind of slander when talking of a great human being. Admiral Jackson is the kind of man that those in Montana would most respect and admire, and now, for no reason whatsoever, his reputation has been shattered. Not fair, Tester!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 28, 2018
To be sure, if Jackson was brought down based on allegations that are untrue this is a cause for concern. This is one reason why it’s somewhat unfortunate, although understandable, that he chose to withdraw his name from consideration. Had the nomination gone forward, these allegations would have no doubt been investigated both by the relevant Senate committee and by the media. If, as the White House and Jackson claim, there was no substance to those allegations then that would have ultimately come out during the course of that investigation. Those hearings will not take place at this point, of course, but it still seems clear that the allegations ought to be investigated. As I noted this morning, Jackson has apparently returned to the White House Physicians Office, although some reports have said that he has not yet been put back on duty as the President’s chief physician. Before that happens, there ought to be a full investigation of the allegations that were made against Jackson, especially those involving medical practices that were questionable at best, probably unethical, and potentially illegal. Now that they are ought in the open, it seems unwise to me for someone in a position of responsibility like Jackson’s should simply be able to return to work with allegations that go to his integrity as a physician still outstanding.
In any case, it’s no surprise that the White House would choose to use the Jackson incident as an opportunity to go after Montana Senator Jon Tester. Along with a handful of other Democrats, he is seen as one of the most vulnerable red-state Democrats up for re-election this year and one of the seats that Republicans are hoping to be able to flip if only to offset potential losses in states such as Nevada, Arizona, and Tennessee. As with other Republican target states such as North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana, Montana is a state that President Trump won easily in 2016, beating Hillary Clinton by over 100,000 votes. This margin was far stronger than the ones won by Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008, and even larger than the one that Ronald Reagan won by in his landslide re-election in 1984 although Reagan won a higher percentage of the overall vote. Tester, on the other hand, has generally had to fight for his seat each time he ran. In 2006, for example, he beat three-term incumbent Republican Conrad Burns by just 3,000 votes and in 2012 he won re-election by just 18,000 votes in a race in which the Libertarian Party nominee managed to garner nearly twice that many. Tester may benefit this year if Montana Democrats are more motivated to votes than their Republican counterparts, but its likely to be a close race, particularly if the Libertarians manage to put up another candidate that keeps both major-party candidates under 50%.
There are a number of Republican candidates vying for the chance to run against Tester in the fall, but the two major candidates appear to be Albert Olszewski, a state legislator who ran unsuccessfully for Lt. Governor in 2012 and Matt Rosendale, a former state legislator who is now the Montana State Auditor and who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2014. Rosendale has been leading in the limited amount of polling conducted in the GOP primary race. While there has been no polling of the General Election, it’s worth noting that the Cook Political ReportStuart RothenbergLarry Sabato, and all list the state as “Likely Democratic” for the time being. Whether that will change, and whether this incident with Jackson will have any impact on the race at all, is something we won’t know until we start to see some polling in this race. In the meantime, Republicans will no doubt try to use this incident against Tester.