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Ronny Jackson under Obama and Trump: From ‘tremendous asset’ to ‘tyrant’

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An inspector general report detailing allegations of “sexual and denigrating” comments made by former White House physician Rep. Ronny Jackson, along with accounts of drinking and taking prescription sleep aids on the job while overseas, come after a lengthy tenure across three administrations.

The Texas Republican’s role in the White House orbit evolved over time, starting as a Navy rear admiral assigned to work on staff in the Medical Unit under George W. Bush in 2006 to being placed in charge of medical care at Camp David to eventually running the entire operation as Physician to the President.

The upward trajectory was helped along by a relatively positive reputation among White House aides and the presidents they served, who viewed Jackson as reliable and friendly.

President Barack Obama hand-wrote performance reviews of Jackson describing him as a “tremendous asset to the entire White House team” and declaring “Ronny does a great job — genuine enthusiasm, poised under pressure, incredible work ethic and follow through” when recommending him for promotions.

Obama’s successor, President Donald Trump, went even further. He nominated Jackson to run an entire federal agency, the Department of Veterans Affairs, after taking a personal liking to his doctor, who declared Trump in “excellent health” after his 2018 physical exam, despite evidence of heart disease and borderline obesity.

It was after his nomination to lead the VA that allegations of misconduct first emerged, eventually leading to Jackson’s withdrawal from consideration. But he remained in Trump’s White House as a medical adviser before eventually running for a US congressional seat in Texas, which he won.

Over the same span of years, according to the report, Jackson was cultivating a hostile work environment and engaging in troubling behavior.

On a presidential trip to Manila from April 22, 2014 to April 29, 2014 four witnesses who traveled with Obama and Jackson said that Jackson became intoxicated and made inappropriate comments about a female medical subordinate.

Two years later, in Bariloche, Argentina, two witnesses told the inspector general they saw Jackson drinking a beer while he was serving as the physician to Obama and in charge of providing medical care for a presidential trip.

These two allegations of alcohol use both occurred under the Obama administration, but the report details a series of incidents under both Obama and Trump in which Jackson lost his temper, cursing at subordinates.

Jackson’s evolution over time from a seemingly apolitical doctor to a deeply conservative politician to — now — a scandal-plagued congressman has proven surprising to some who knew him during his years at the White House.

When he was serving as the White House physician during the Obama administration, Jackson was generally well-regarded among Obama’s aides and by the President himself, with whom he was friendly. He was a regular presence on presidential trips and at the White House, where he worked from the basement medical suite with a small team.

He did not have much of a public profile; when a person fainted during a news conference at the end of 2016, Obama offered up Jackson’s services.

“There’s Dr. Jackson,” Obama said, directing the individual to the medical suite. “Doctor’s in the house.”

One former Obama official said Jackson and Obama got along well and had gotten to know each other during lengthy overseas trips and because Jackson was a constant presence at the White House. They said they never detected any animosity between them and couldn’t remember Jackson ever voicing a political view.

Obama has no plans to comment on the inspector general’s report on Jackson’s conduct in the White House, spokeswoman Katie Hill told CNN on Wednesday. A spokesman for Trump did not respond to a request for comment about the inspector general report.

In a statement on Tuesday, Jackson said: “Democrats are using this report to repeat and rehash untrue attacks on my integrity.”

“I’m proud of the work environment I fostered under three different Presidents of both parties; I take my professional responsibility with respect to prescription drug practices seriously; and I flat out reject any allegation that I consumed alcohol while on duty,” Jackson said.

Asked further about the allegations on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Jackson declined to comment.

“I’ve already submitted a statement,” he told reporters.

One former Obama administration official said the allegations were not surprising, given so much of the former White House physician’s conduct has been reviewed and discussed since he was Obama’s official doctor.

A second Obama administration official said the allegations add another layer to the question of “what happened” to Jackson, who was a widely respected and admired figure in the Obama White House. That view of him has long been shattered during the Trump era, making the report just more fodder for that question.

Under Trump, Jackson’s career took on an entirely different tack. After touting the commander in chief’s “incredible genes” and overall “excellent” health during a news conference — while downplaying signs of heart disease — Trump took a personal interest in Jackson.

He nominated his doctor to the position of rear admiral (upper half) from his previous position of rear admiral (lower half). And eventually he nominated him to oversee Veterans Affairs, a sprawling agency charged with the medical care for former US service-members. An official said at the time Trump liked the way Jackson handled himself with reporters during the briefing about his health.

Representatives from veterans groups and lawmakers openly questioned whether Jackson had the right experience to run the sprawling agency, despite his military and medical background. Obama’s aides also privately questioned whether he was qualified to run such a large agency, even as they defended his character.

Still, a former Obama official who traveled frequently with Jackson told CNN at the time of his nomination that “he had his detractors.”

“He was bossy. He was loud,” the official said, adding that while Jackson was known to drink alcohol on trips, he was also often seen not drinking in social situations. The officials said they were never made aware of drunken incidents at the time.

Trump remained stalwart.

“For no reason whatsoever, his reputation has been shattered,” he bemoaned on Twitter, calling for the resignation Sen. Jon Tester, the Montana Democrat who was one of the first to raise the allegations against Jackson.

Later, however, Trump acknowledged he knew Jackson’s nomination was going south.

“I even told him a day or two ago I saw where this was going,” Trump said the day Jackson withdrew his name from consideration.

But he remained supportive, including re-nominating him to receive a second star even as he remained under Pentagon investigation over allegations of improper behavior.

And Jackson heavily utilized his friendship with Trump, and connections to the White House, when he launched his bid for Congress in Texas’s 13th District in 2019.

Battling a crowded primary field, he told supporters he was friends with Cabinet secretaries and the chief of staff, and boasted he could pick up his cellphone to call them.

He ran in the general election as a staunch Trump supporter — and began spouting conspiracy theories, including that Obama had spied on Trump’s presidential campaign.

The turn left some officials from the Obama administration a little perplexed, because Jackson was considered even-minded, apolitical — and friendly with Obama, who he baselessly accused of grave crimes.

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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