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Trump: VA pick Ronny Jackson will soon decide whether to withdraw

White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson speaks to

White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson speaks to reporters during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington on Jan. 16. Credit: AP / Manuel Balce Ceneta

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that his pick for Veterans Affairs secretary might want to withdraw after the emergence of allegations about inappropriate workplace behavior, including overprescribing prescription drugs and drinking on the job.

Trump said he would stand behind Dr. Ronny Jackson, calling the White House doctor “one of the finest people that I have met.” But he questioned why Jackson would want to put up with the scrutiny, which he characterized as unfair.

“I wouldn’t do it,” Trump said. “What does he need it for? What do you need this for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country?”

He said Jackson would make a decision soon.

A watchdog report ordered in 2012 by Jackson found that he and a rival physician exhibited “unprofessional behaviors” as they engaged in a power struggle over the White House medical unit. The report, reviewed Tuesday by The Associated Press, suggested the White House consider replacing Jackson or Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman — or both. Kuhlman was the physician to President Barack Obama at the time, and had previously held the role occupied by Jackson: director of the White House Medical Unit.

The six-page report by the Navy’s Medical Inspector General found a lack of trust in the leadership and low morale among staff members, who described the working environment as “being caught between parents going through a bitter divorce.”

“There is a severe and pervasive lack of trust in the leadership that has deteriorated to the point that staff walk on ‘eggshells, ” the report found. The report includes no references to improper prescribing or the use of alcohol.

Trump spoke at a White House news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron shortly after the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee announced that Jackson’s confirmation hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, would be postponed indefinitely while senators looked into the allegations.

“We take very seriously our constitutional duty to thoroughly and carefully vet each nominee sent to the Senate for confirmation,” said the chairman, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), and the top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana. “We will continue looking into these serious allegations and have requested additional information from the White House to enable the committee to conduct a full review.”

Asked if Jackson’s nomination is still viable, Isakson responded, “We’ll see.”

The two lawmakers sent a letter to Trump on Tuesday requesting additional information about Jackson, who has served as a White House physician since 2006. It demands any communication between the Pentagon and the White House for the last 12 years regarding “allegations or incidents” involving him.

Allegations began surfacing late last week involving Jackson’s workplace practices, including claims of inappropriate behavior and overprescribing prescription drugs, according to two aides granted anonymity to discuss the situation. The complaints the White House heard include that he oversaw a poor work environment and that he had drunk alcohol on the job, according to an administration official who demanded anonymity to speak on a sensitive personnel matter.

Isakson told fellow GOP senators over the weekend about the allegations, prompting those on the panel to support delaying the hearing.

Trump selected Jackson to head the VA last month after firing former Obama administration official David Shulkin following an ethics scandal and mounting rebellion within the agency.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the American people were the losers in a shaky nomination effort. The Trump Cabinet, he said, “is turning into a sad game of musical chairs.”

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