Jackson is said to have recklessly prescribed drugs, crashed government vehicle while drunk
WASHINGTON — Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, the White House physician nominated to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, provided “a large supply” of Percocet, a prescription opioid, to a White House military office staff member, throwing his own medical staff “into a panic” when the medical unit could not account for the missing drugs, according to a summary of questionable deeds compiled by the Democratic staff of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
A nurse on his staff said Jackson had written himself prescriptions, and when caught, he asked a physician assistant to provide the medication. And at a Secret Service going away party, the doctor got intoxicated and “wrecked a government vehicle,” according to the summary.
The two-page document fleshes out three categories of accusations — prescription drug misuse, hostile work environment and drunkenness — that threaten to derail President Donald Trump’s nominee. It provides details based on the testimony of 23 current and former colleagues of Jackson, many of whom are still in the military, who have spoken with the committee staff.
The new details came as White House officials on Wednesday ratcheted up their public defense of Jackson, calling charges of workplace misconduct leveled against him “outrageous” even as new incidents of questionable conduct surfaced.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters earlier Wednesday afternoon that Jackson had been the subject of at least four background investigations, including by the FBI, during his time at the White House. None, she said, had turned up areas for concern, and Jackson had drawn praise from colleagues and presidents in each.
“None of those things have come up in the four separate background investigations that have taken place,” she said, referring to the recent allegations. “There’s been no area of concern that was raised for Dr. Jackson specifically.”
But when pressed, Sanders said she could not comment on the credibility of specific charges.
“These are new,” she said. “I can only speak to some of the personal accounts that those of us have, as well as the records that we have that are substantiated through a very detailed and thorough background investigation process.”
Among those new charges she did not address: During an overseas trip by the Obama administration in 2015, Jackson went out drinking, came back to the delegation’s hotel and began banging on the door of a staff member’s hotel room, according to an account shared with the senior Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana. The noise was so loud that members of the Secret Service came to see what was happening and warned Jackson to be quiet so he would not wake up the president, who was staying nearby.
The episode was first reported by CNN.
The document prepared by the committee’s Democratic staff paints a picture of a medical office that was casual with the prescribing and distribution of drugs but terrorized by a mercurial boss, quick to temper.
The document includes allegations that Jackson regularly distributed Ambien, a prescription sleep aid, to members of the White House staff and members of the news media flying on long overseas trips, as well as another prescription drug to promote wakefulness.
It says that the committee was told that physicians working with Jackson “felt uncomfortable and refused to be a part of the loose dispensing of drugs to current and former” White House staff. It also states that Jackson “also had private stocks of controlled substances.”
The document says that the committee received testimony that the White House medical unit “had questionable record keeping for pharmaceuticals” and that the committee was told that Jackson would often only account for pills after distributing them.
One former medical staff member described Jackson as a “kiss up, kick down boss,” who mistreated subordinates and created a hostile work environment.
Members of the Veterans Affairs Committee continue to investigate the claims.
Jackson had been scheduled to testify before the Senate committee on Wednesday, but its top Republican and Democrat announced on Tuesday that the session would be postponed to allow more time to investigate the claims.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the committee’s chairman, said earlier on Wednesday that he intended to hold a confirmation hearing for Jackson, but would first need to receive documents that he and Tester requested on Jackson’s time at the White House. To speculate on the nominee’s fate before then, he said, would be unfair.
“He deserves a hearing and he’s going to get it,” Isakson said.
An aide to Tester said on Wednesday that other former colleagues of Jackson had reached out to the committee to share stories since details of its investigation became public. Other stories the committee had already collected continued to seep into public view.
On another trip during Barack Obama’s presidency, White House staff members reached out to Jackson for medical reasons but found him passed out in his hotel room after a night of drinking, Tester aides said. The staff members took the medical supplies they were looking for without waking Jackson.
The White House’s pushback — both in public and behind the scenes — was targeted toward the general allegations and not specific episodes, many of which appear to have occurred during the Obama administration.
Marc Short, the White House’s legislative affairs director, told reporters that the White House would be requesting a confirmation hearing. Jackson told reporters in brief comments on Tuesday that he was looking forward to testifying to answer the charges against him.
Short pushed back against assertions that Jackson had casually doled out prescription drugs.
“Every year they come in and they do a review of the White House physician’s office on things like prescriptions,” Short told reporters. “And every year, they’ve said that he’s totally in compliance with what he’s been prescribing.”
On Capitol Hill, some Republican senators worried that Jackson was being asked to account for anonymous accusations that had not yet been fully vetted. Others were still awaiting access to the more detailed charges collected by Tester and others on the Veterans Affairs Committee.
“For us to hound somebody out just because somebody can make an accusation strikes me as unfair,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber.
Cornyn defended Jackson’s reported distribution of Ambien and other drugs during long trips as nothing out of the ordinary. He said that because Jackson was a doctor, it was not a problem that he distributed the drugs, even without writing a prescription.
“On overseas travel, yeah, sure, people take Ambien to help them transition through time zones,” he said. “It’s pretty common, I’m led to believe.”
Still, some Democrats privately wondered if the allegations, on top of existing concerns that Jackson lacked the experience to lead one of the federal government’s largest and most troubled departments, would be enough to cut his nomination short.