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Pentagon IG considering probe of Ronny Jackson allegations

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson talks with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., in Tester's Capitol Hill office, April 17, 2018.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 1, 2018

WASHINGTON — Pentagon investigators are mulling an official probe into allegations that Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the failed nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, regularly behaved improperly as the top physician of the White House Medical Unit, Defense Department officials confirmed Tuesday.

The department’s inspector general has received the allegations and is determining whether they merit a formal investigation of Jackson, said Tom Crosson, a spokesman for the Pentagon. Jackson has served as the top physician to President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama since 2013 and withdrew his nomination last week to serve as Trump’s VA chief amid accusations that included overprescribing medications and drinking on duty.

The initial IG inquiry is focused on determining “what investigations and reviews have already been conducted related to these issues, any jurisdictional issues that may relate to the allegations, and the scope of the allegations and complaints related to these issues,” Crosson said.

The probe threatens to derail Jackson’s future with the Navy. The one-star admiral remains on active duty and was nominated in March to receive a second star, before Trump unexpectedly tapped him for the VA’s top job. That promotion remains pending with the Senate Armed Services Committee, documents show.

Democrats on that committee, which approves promotions of senior military officers, have called for the allegations to be investigated before lawmakers consider Jackson’s promotion. A committee official declined to comment on the nomination.

Navy officials also declined Tuesday to discuss the nomination or any past or present investigations by the service into the allegations raised against Jackson.

For now, Jackson remains in his position at the White House, a spokesman said Tuesday, denying media reports that he would not continue as Trump’s physician.

“Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson is currently on active duty, assigned to the White House as deputy assistant to the president,” said Raj Shah, White House principal deputy press secretary. “Despite published reports, there are no personnel announcements at this time.”

Jackson has served 23 years as a Navy physician, including a tour in 2005 as an emergency medicine physician in Iraq. He has worked in the White House Medical Unit since 2006 during former President George W. Bush’s administration. Obama nominated him to lead the White House’s team of physicians in 2013.

Last week, Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee released some of the accusations made against Jackson by 23 of his current and former coworkers in the White House Medical Unit. They portrayed Jackson as an unstable and power-hungry leader who drank on duty and freely handed out prescription medications.

Initially raised by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the ranking member on the veterans affairs committee, the allegations included dispensing the narcotic Percocet without proper paperwork and of drunkenly wrecking a government vehicle during a Secret Service party.

Jackson has denied the allegations, which have not been publicly substantiated. Nonetheless, he withdrew from consideration to serve as VA secretary on Thursday.

Tester’s decision to release the allegations drew Trump’s ire over the weekend, even as Republican lawmakers defended the senator’s actions.

The president took to Twitter to rail against Tester on Saturday, hours before calling for the senator’s resignation during a campaign-style rally in Michigan.

“Allegations made by Senator Jon Tester against Admiral/Doctor Ron Jackson are proving false,” Trump tweeted. “The Secret Service is unable to confirm (in fact they deny) any of the phony Democrat charges which have absolutely devastated the wonderful Jackson family. Tester should resign.”

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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