Washington (AFP) – US President Donald Trump’s doctor Ronny Jackson withdrew his nomination to head the Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday following allegations he improperly handed out drugs and was drunk at work.
The move marked the latest upset in an administration rocked by a series of firings and resignations in a little more than a year since Trump took office.
“I am regretfully withdrawing my nomination to be Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Jackson said in a statement.
Jackson insisted that the allegations against him were false, but said he was withdrawing anyway due to the distraction they were causing.
“Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this president and the important issue we must be addressing — how we give the best care to our nation’s heroes,” Jackson said.
His withdrawal came just a day after he indicated that he would fight on, telling reporters that his shock nomination was “still moving ahead as planned.”
Trump said he had seen the writing on the wall about the nomination, but defended Jackson, saying he “would’ve done a great job.”
“These are all false accusations… they’re trying to destroy a man,” Trump told Fox News.
Trump sacked David Shulkin, the previous head of the 370,000-plus person Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in late March after he was accused of spending $122,000 on a nine-day trip to Europe with his wife, which included sightseeing at castles and taking in professional tennis matches.
The agency is notoriously dysfunctional, and a lack of funding has weakened the hospital network specifically dedicated to the health of veterans — a key constituency for Trump.
– ‘Candy man’ –
The system has also come under criticism from many veterans and organizations for falling short, particularly in terms of psychiatric care for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Trump surprised even his closest aides a month ago with an evening tweet announcing Jackson was his pick to run the VA.
Jackson’s stock with Trump rose after he pronounced in January that the 71-year-old president was in “excellent” health.
After releasing the results from Trump’s physical, Jackson said “he has incredible genes and that’s the way God made him.”
The Navy rear admiral was the physician to presidents Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush and was well regarded by many current and former White House staff.
But he was widely seen as vastly underqualified to head the VA and already faced a tough battle for congressional confirmation.
Following the announcement of his nomination, a tidal wave of allegations surfaced over his behavior, from passing out at work to dolling out drugs to staffers like the “candy man” and crashing a government vehicle.
Senate Democrats released a litany of allegations on Wednesday, citing “conversations with 23 colleagues and former colleagues.”
The allegations included handing out sleeping tablets on Air Force One, opioids to at least one White House staffer and prescribing drugs for himself.
“On at least one occasion, Dr Jackson could not be reached when needed because he was passed out drunk in his hotel room,” according to a document released by Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat.
Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders indicated that Jackson was staying on in his post at the White House, saying that “he is here at work today.”