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As Ronny Jackson Withdraws Name As VA Nominee, Trump Defends Him


White House doctor Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson has dropped out of consideration to become the new secretary of Veterans Affairs. Jackson withdrew his name this morning hours after detailed new allegations surfaced about his conduct in his current position. He had been accused of overprescribing medications and being intoxicated on the job. In a statement announcing his decision, Jackson called these claims baseless. President Trump called in to Fox News this morning to defend Jackson. NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley joins me now in the studio. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Rachel.

MARTIN: So Ronny Jackson has been under fire for days now. The initial allegations came out days ago. So what changed? What pushed him to withdraw today?

HORSLEY: Rachel, late yesterday, Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, put out a two-page document that summarized what he said were the allegations raised by nearly two dozen current and former co-workers of Dr. Jackson that really detailed some of those charges we only heard sort of the outline of before, including dispensing drugs in a manner that one fellow doctor described as reckless. And not only Ambien, which we'd heard about, but the prescription painkiller Percocet.

MARTIN: Which is very different than a sleep drug.

HORSLEY: That's right. And it was also alleged that Dr. Jackson had gotten drunk at a going-away party for a Secret Service agent and wrecked a government vehicle. Now, as you say, in his statement, Jackson denies these allegations. He calls them completely false and fabricated but acknowledges that this has all become a distraction for the president and the Veterans Affairs Department. And so he said he's regretfully withdrawing his nomination.

MARTIN: And President Trump earlier this week seemed to give his nominee an out, right? He said that, hey, if I were Ronny Jackson, I wouldn't go through this confirmation process. And then there was a change of heart, and the White House rallied around him. Clearly, they decided in the end that this was all too much pressure.

HORSLEY: Yeah. I think, initially, Jackson wanted a chance to defend his reputation, even though the president said if it were - if he were in Jackson's shoes, he wouldn't want to do that. He said this was going to get ugly. And indeed, it got uglier as the week went on. The report that came out from Senator Tester's office yesterday really detailed these allegations. It didn't offer substantiation, but it did really paint a damning picture of the White House medical unit under Dr. Jackson's command. On Fox News this morning though, the president continued to defend Jackson's character.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He would have done a great job. He's got tremendous heart. These are all false accusations that were made. These are false. They're trying to destroy a man. By the way, I just say welcome to Washington. Welcome to the swamp.

HORSLEY: Now, the White House says Dr. Jackson is back on the job at the White House as the president's doctor this morning. But one question, Rachel, is, you know, do these allegations now prompt new scrutiny of the way the White House medical office runs?

MARTIN: Right. So do we have any idea who President Trump might pick to replace Jackson as the nominee?

HORSLEY: You know. Even before these allegations were raised, there were questions about the choice of Dr. Jackson. People said he didn't have the managerial chops to run a sprawling bureaucracy like the VA. In general, President Trump has little - puts little stock in that sort of traditional experience, you know, both in his private business and now in government. He has often tried to promote people into jobs for which they have no obvious credentials. And so it's not clear that he's going to look for somebody with managerial experience, but the president did say on Fox News this morning he will look for someone with more political acumen to get through the confirmation process.

MARTIN: The president was also asked this morning about his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who has decided to plead the fifth in the case involving Stormy Daniels. What did the president have to say about this?

HORSLEY: Well, remember that Michael Cohen's office and home were searched not long ago by the FBI. Trump says that it had more to do with Cohen's business practices than his legal work, and he sort of tried to distance himself from Michael Cohen. He really minimized Cohen's role in managing his own legal affairs. Trump says Cohen is just one of many lawyers that he works with.


TRUMP: Michael would represent me and represent me on some things. He represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal. He represented me. And, you know, from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong.

HORSLEY: What's interesting there is the president appears to be acknowledging that in paying hush money to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election, Michael Cohen was representing him, whereas Cohen himself has suggested that he was acting on his own without the president's knowledge.

MARTIN: So that's a new development. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley for us this morning. Thanks so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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