President Donald Trump on Friday criticized allegations against Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, who withdrew his nomination to lead the Veterans Affairs Department on Thursday, calling them “an absolute disgrace.”
Trump called out Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the committee, who in multiple interviews spoke about the allegations against Jackson, including drunkenness on duty, inappropriately distributing prescription medicines and creating a hostile work environment.
“I don’t think that state is going to put up with it,” Trump said of Montana, echoing comments from Thursday that Tester should pay “a big price” with voters in his bid for re-election in November.
On Thursday, Jackson denied the accusations against him in a statement, saying he was stepping down because “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.”
Even before the allegations surfaced, both Republican and Democratic senators had voiced concern about the nomination because Jackson has no experience running an organization as vast and complex as the VA.
Trump had sent mixed signals about Jackson’s nomination when the allegations surfaced, telling reporters that he “personally” wouldn’t go through with it but that the decision was up to his nominee. On Friday, speaking at a joint news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany at the White House, Trump had nothing but praise for Jackson, calling him “one of the finest men that I’ve ever met,” and citing “A-plus reports” from former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, as well as himself, all three of whom Jackson served as personal physician.
The president also compared his own experience with the press to Jackson’s, bringing up allegations that his campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 election. (The newly released report from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee found no evidence of collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia, but cites evidence that Russia interfered in the election.)
“I’ve had it happen to me with the Russian collusion hoax,” Trump said. “It’s a hoax. But I came into the job understanding that things happen. He didn’t.”
Despite Jackson’s withdrawal, “many people” still want to be secretary of veterans affairs, Trump said.
“I will tell you,” he said, “the new head of the VA will be very exceptional.”