The White House on Wednesday continued defending embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee Ronny Jackson, saying multiple background checks have turned up no red flags. And, for the first time, a senior official said an internal review could happen as his nomination appears stalled.
With his Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee confirmation hearing still on hold amid allegations he over-prescribed medication, was drunk on the job and fostered a hostile work environment, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters he has undergone four federal background checks since becoming a White House doctor.
One of those was conducted by the FBI, and none produced any information that caused the Obama or Trump administrations to question his ability to care for Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump — as well as their families and staffs.
Specifically, she told reporters none of those background investigations produced evidence Jackson was handing out prescriptions willy nilly or over-serving himself with alcoholic beverages during working hours.
At first, she gave reporters no indication the president has ordered an internal review of allegations Jackson is facing. But when asked a few minutes later, she became the first senior White House official to signal an internal probe could be afoot.
“That’s certainly something that we would look at,” she said when asked about the allegations that could sink his nomination a day after they surfaced and Trump said he would advise Jackson to step aside.
Trump said Tuesday he would prefer not “to put a man through a process like this — it’s too ugly and disgusting,” adding: “What does he need it for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country?”
But Trump went onto to pour more cold water on his own nominee, also acknowledging he knows there is an “an experience problem” because Jackson, a Navy rear admiral, has never held a major command or management post but is up to manage the sprawling VA.
A day later, Sanders sidestepped a question about whether Jackson is qualified to run the agency, saying previous VA secretaries had experience managing massive organizations but struggled at the department. “It’s a different approach, but that doesn’t mean it’s a wrong approach.”
Senior Senate Democrats like Veterans Affairs ranking member Jon Tester of Montana and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York have signaled the nomination might be sunk. Tester said Tuesday that Jackson's confirmation hearing would only be rescheduled if panel leaders determined that is somehow possible amid the firestorm.
Hours after Trump’s Tuesday afternoon nudging Jackson to step aside, a senior White House official issued a statement defending the nominee. That official also shared information that contended a 2012 inspector general report on Jackson and a White House rival put most of the blame on the other Navy officer involved in the dispute. (It also faulted Jackson for his role in the office feud.)
The senior official also pointed to performance reviews of Jackson conducted by the Obama administration in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Each included handwritten notes from Obama praising his then-military doctor, with two recommending he be quickly promoted to a higher rank.