AP FACT CHECK: Trump distorts claims on VA nominee, vet care
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is distorting some of the reasons why his pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, White House physician Ronny Jackson, abruptly withdrew his nomination.
Trump casts late-surfacing allegations against Jackson as entirely partisan. He cites an investigation led by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., even though the review involved interviews with military personnel and was conducted with the knowledge and support of Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the committee considering Jackson’s nomination.
Trump also ignores misgivings expressed by several Republicans over Jackson’s lack of management experience after Trump suddenly selected the doctor last month to head the government’s second-largest agency.
Meanwhile, Trump falsely claims he was the one who pulled a plan to expand the Veterans Choice private health care program because “it wasn’t good enough.” In fact, the White House fully supported the plan but couldn’t push it through Congress last month.
A look at the misleading rhetoric:
TRUMP: “Allegations made by Senator Jon Tester against Admiral/Doctor Ron Jackson are proving false. 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.” — tweet Saturday afternoon.
TRUMP: “What Jon Tester did to this man is a disgrace. ... He’s a great, great guy... and he started studying and then he started getting hit with vicious rumors — vicious. And the Secret Service told me just coming in, ‘Sir, we checked out all of those things. Sir, they’re not true.’” — rally Saturday night in Washington Township, Michigan.
THE FACTS: It’s inaccurate for Trump to characterize the allegations against Jackson as “Democrat” or to suggest that Jackson’s nomination failed entirely because of them. The allegations, which centered on a “pattern” of loosely prescribing drugs, drunken behavior on the job and a “toxic” work environment, were based on interviews with more than 20 military personnel, according to Tester. The time period covered Jackson’s tenure as a White House physician dating to 2006 and involved colleagues who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
After pledging to address the allegations, Jackson abruptly withdrew his nomination Thursday, saying he “did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity.”
Tester’s staff compiled a summary of the allegations and released it last Wednesday with the support of Isakson, the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Isakson earlier had called the allegations “serious” in his decision to postpone Jackson’s Wednesday hearing.
Jackson had already faced tough questions from several committee Republicans about whether he had the experience to manage the massive VA.
Jackson has broadly denied the allegations of misbehavior. They included crashing a government vehicle while intoxicated at a Secret Service going-away party and doling out such a large supply of a prescription opioid that staffers panicked because they thought the drugs were missing.
As to Trump’s claim that the Secret Service “checked out all of those things” and said they were untrue, it’s not clear if he was referring to the full allegations or just the purported car crash.
On Friday, The Associated Press reviewed internal records from the White House, including police reports, that show Jackson had three minor incidents in government vehicles during the past five years, but none involved the use of alcohol, and he was not found to be at fault. In addition, the White House medical unit that Jackson ran successfully passed regular controlled-substance audits, according to the records for the last three years. The reviews did recommend improvements to the medical unit’s handling of controlled substances but did not find misconduct.
TRUMP: “We’ve done a great job with our vets. We have accountability approved, we’re getting Choice approved. And I pulled it because I didn’t like the Choice. The Choice wasn’t good enough ... I could’ve had it already. We could’ve had it in the last budget. But it wasn’t good enough. We’re getting Choice, which is a big deal. That’s going to be game changing.” — rally Saturday night.
THE FACTS: Trump says he pulled the Choice proposal from a spending bill because “it wasn’t good enough.” In fact, the White House supported the plan backed by key Republicans and Democrats to outsource more routine veterans’ care to private providers, but House Democrats balked at moving too quickly.
In a statement this month, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley emphasized that Trump had nothing to do with Choice not being approved.
“Time and again, Democrats have attempted to blame President Trump for their own inaction, but it’s their own leadership — Nancy Pelosi — who failed to include the VA Choice legislation in the 2000+ page omnibus bill,” Gidley said. “The Trump administration looks forward to continuing to work with Congress to reform and strengthen the VA Choice program.”
White House officials have indicated they still support that plan spearheaded in part by Tester, whom Trump is now attacking for releasing allegations against Jackson. Some conservatives such as Pete Hegseth, a “Fox & Friends” contributor, who has been previously considered for the VA secretary job, have suggested the plan may not go far enough to provide access to private doctors outside the government-run VA health system.
Lawmakers have said they will try again next month, but proposals have been stalled because of disagreements over cost and how much access veterans should have to private doctors.
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