Trump's VA pick withdraws nomination

By Veronica Rocha, Meg Wagner and Brian Ries, CNN

Updated 12:52 p.m. ET, April 26, 2018
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4:56 p.m. ET, April 25, 2018

Former Obama officials defend Jackson on character, but say he lacks experience

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny

Two officials who worked closely with Ronny Jackson in the Obama administration said the nickname “The Candyman” has been misconstrued.

They told CNN Jackson was, in fact, called that name on occasion, but it was because of his friendly demeanor and people liked being around him.

The officials didn’t dispute that Jackson gave out sleeping aids, but only after asking routine medical questions.

Jackson would ask staffers how long they wanted to sleep and whether they had to get any work done on the flight. The prescriptions ranged from Ambien to non-prescription drugs like melatonin.

“The people who are calling him the Candyman are out to get him,” one of the officials said. “White House staffers were expected to make Transatlantic flights sleeping on the floor. It wasn’t just him.”

Six former Obama officials told CNN they were reluctant to speak on the record because they did not believe Jackson was qualified to lead the Veterans Affairs Department.

They believed he was a highly-qualified, dedicated and attentive physician, but lacked the management experience to run the massive government agency.

A former Obama official who traveled frequently with Jackson said “he had his detractors."

"He was bossy. He was loud,” the official said. But this person said the portrait being painted of Jackson was inaccurate.

While Jackson was known to drink alcohol on trips, the officials said, he was also often seen not drinking in social situations.

The officials said they were never made aware of drunken incidents at the time, which have now been reported to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee by whistleblowers.

4:58 p.m. ET, April 25, 2018

JUST IN: Ronny Jackson denies he wrecked a car and says he is not withdrawing

From CNN's Liz Landers

Dr. Ronny Jackson denied the allegation he wrecked a government car, and said he is staying in the nomination process.

“I never wrecked a car," he told reporters, responding to a New York Times report that stated "the doctor got intoxicated and 'wrecked a government vehicle.'"

“I have not wrecked a car. I can tell you that," he added.

Asked if he was still moving forward, he said, “We’re still moving ahead as planned.”

2:32 p.m. ET, April 25, 2018

White House defends Jackson's record, says he's been thoroughly vetted

From CNN's Jeremy Diamond

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended VA Secretary nominee Ronny Jackson's record as "impeccable" and suggested his position as White House doctor means he has been more thoroughly vetted than other Cabinet nominees.

"Dr. Jackson’s record as a White House physician has been impeccable," Sanders said. "Because he has worked within arm’s reach of three presidents, he has in fact received more vetting than most nominees."

Sanders said Jackson has passed four background investigations, including a recent FBI investigation that is part of the vetting process for Cabinet nominees. She said the investigations "revealed no areas of concern."

Sanders did not say whether the most recent FBI background investigation took place before or after Trump tapped Jackson as the VA nominee.

Still, she insisted Jackson "a very thorough investigation and vetting process has taken place."

 

1:50 p.m. ET, April 25, 2018

Vetting process for Jackson should have been better, GOP senator says

From CNN's Manu Raju

Republican Sen. Bob Corker said if the allegations against Trump's VA pick, Ronny Jackson, are true, there should have been "better job" done when it came to vetting the nominee.

"He may be an outstanding individual, but I just don’t know anything about how — it looked like the process just kind of happened," said Corker, who does not sit on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

"So maybe in this particular case, if all the things you just said are the way things are, maybe in this particular case, a better job should have been done."

Corker isn't the only Republican frustrated with the vetting process.

"I understand the President wants his people and we want to be deferential as much as we can, but it would be nice to know some of the issues that come up after the fact, before the fact," said John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate's No. 3 Republican.

Among Jackson's allies — even within the West Wing — some have grumbled that Trump's hurried decision to elevate him without extensive vetting has essentially let Jackson hang out to dry.

"He got totally hosed," said one current White House aide, who said that a more thorough look at Jackson's background before his nomination might have helped mitigate his problems.

1:34 p.m. ET, April 25, 2018

GOP senator: The sources making allegations against Jackson have "a lot of credibility"

From CNN's Manu Raju

Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Sen. Mike Rounds, a Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said some of the sources who have come forward alleging misconduct against Ronny Jackson are credible.

He said the committee is investigating "more than 21 separate accounts."

"When you have these types of accusations or allegations that are being made by some individuals with a lot of credibility, then you want to follow them through. You want to find out what’s going on. So the committee has that responsibility, whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat that’s being nominated, we’ve still got to do our due diligence, and that’s what we’re going to do."
12:11 p.m. ET, April 25, 2018

Senate VA chairman: Jackson deserves a fair hearing

From CNN's Manu Raju

Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson said Ronny Jackson, Trump's pick to run the VA, deserves an "open, fair hearing."

Lawmakers leading the Jackson's confirmation announced on Tuesday that the hearings will be delayed indefinitely following allegations related to improper conduct in various stages of Jackson's career.

However, Isakson said he wants to “get to the bottom of every claim that is made.”

Watch more:

11:09 a.m. ET, April 25, 2018

White House: Allegations against Jackson are "outrageous"

Press secretary Sarah Sanders spoke with reporters outside the White House moments ago about allegations against Trump's nominee to lead the VA.

“I’m not going to go line by line on every outrageous thing out there right now, but he certainly discussed them” with President Trump, Sanders told CNN.

Sanders also defended his experience calling him a “very highly qualified, highly respected person in the military and the medical community.”

11:08 a.m. ET, April 25, 2018

White House will call for a hearing for Jackson, official says

From CNN’s Kaitlan Collins

White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said Dr. Ronny Jackson "deserves his chance."

"Dr. Jackson is a great story of a young man who decided to go to medical school, he volunteered to serve our country, his dad is a veteran, his son is in training to become a Navy SEAL. He has served multiple presidents — Republicans and Democrats — and he’s always received honorable reports back. I know y’all have seen some of President Obama’s reports yesterday. We think he deserves his chance." 

Short said the White House will call for a hearing, and answered reporters' questions about Jackson:

  • Why did Trump lay the groundwork for him to withdraw? "I think the President sees how polarized this town is, and how vicious it is. He knows Dr. Jackson is a great person and no one wants to see there reputation sullied that way." 
  • What about the drinking on the job rumors"No reasons to believe drinking on the job are true."
  • And Sen. Tester's "candy man" line“It was absolutely unfair for him to drop the candy man line. I think that there have been multiple, every year they come in and do a review of the WH physician’s office on things like prescriptions, and every year they’ve said that he was totally in compliance what what he’s been prescribing.” 

Short would not say if Jackson offered to withdraw to Trump.

10:14 a.m. ET, April 25, 2018

Senate VA chairman: I want to "get to the bottom of every claim that is made"

From CNN's Manu Raju

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson said he’s not going to “take any position that would be prejudicial” on the allegations against Ronny Jackson, Trump's pick to lead the VA.

Isakson's comment came after CNN asked him if he believed these were credible allegations.

Isakson said he plans to still have an open hearing with the VA nominee. He wants to “get to the bottom of every claim that is made.” He would not call on Jackson to withdraw and said he still wants to give him a “fair hearing.”