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White House: VA Nominee ‘Deserves A Fair Hearing’ As Senators Weigh Allegations

The president met Tuesday with Navy Rear Adm. Dr. Ronny Jackson, a White House official confirmed to NPR. The official said Jackson wants to keep fighting and that Trump supports his decision.

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The White House is defending President Trump’s choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, even as questions swirl around the nominee, White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson.

“Dr. Jackson deserves a fair hearing, and we are not going to write him off in any way before his hearing, and quite frankly neither should members of Congress,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told Rachel Martin on NPR’s Morning Edition Wednesday.

Gidley said the FBI background investigation into Jackson “was clean and there are no issues in the background check whatsoever.”

Jackson’s confirmation hearing, originally scheduled for Wednesday, was indefinitely postponed. And even as Trump defended his nominee, he suggested Jackson might prefer to withdraw.

“What do you need it for?” Trump said he told Jackson Tuesday. “I don’t want to put a man through a process like this. It’s too ugly and too disgusting.”

Jackson, a Navy rear admiral who has served as personal physician to both Trump and former President Barack Obama, was already facing tough questions about whether he had the managerial experience to lead the VA.

Then, late last week, complaints surfaced about Jackson drinking on duty during foreign trips, improperly dispensing prescription medication, and overseeing a hostile work environment in the White House medical unit, according to Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

The complaints came from more than 20 active duty and retired military personnel who had worked for Jackson, Tester said.

“There’s a lot of smoke there,” Tester told All Things Considered‘s Ari Shapiro about the as-yet-unsubstantiated allegations.

Veterans committee member Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, told Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition Wednesday that “what’s concerning for this committee is the kind of information that has come forward, and we need to find out more about his ability to handle the second-largest agency in the entire government.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican on the committee, has said Jackson denied ever having a drink while on duty.

Reporters caught up with Jackson on Capitol Hill Tuesday on his way to Moran’s office. “I was looking forward to the hearing,” Jackson said in video captured by MSNBC. “Kind of disappointed that it’s been postponed, but I’m looking forward to getting it rescheduled and answering everybody’s questions.”

Asked whether he “categorically denied” the allegations against him, he said, “I’m looking forward to the hearings, so we can sit down and I can explain everything to everyone and answer all the senators’ questions.”

Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Tester sent a letter to Trump on Tuesday requesting additional documentation related to Jackson’s tenure as the president’s doctor and his role leading the White House medical team.

The letter requested information about rumored Pentagon inspector general reports said to detail allegations into Jackson’s conduct.

The White House says Jackson has never been the subject of an Inspector General’s report and pointed to glowing performance reviews he received from both Trump and Obama.

“Ronny’s positive impact cannot be overstated,” Obama wrote in 2015. “He is a tremendous asset to the entire White House team.”

Trump echoed that sentiment last year, writing, “Dr. Jackson is a great doctor + leader — ‘2 star material,’ ” in bold sharpie.

Jackson has served in the medical unit since 2006, caring for three presidents. He specializes in emergency medicine and served with a battlefield surgical unit in Iraq.

An administration official suggested the complaints may be fallout from Jackson’s rivalry with another doctor in the White House Medical Unit dating back to 2012.

The rivalry between Jackson and Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman prompted a “command climate assessment” of the medical unit that year, which found low morale.

“The staff characterized the working environment as being caught between parents going through a bitter divorce with one parent undermining and talking bad about the other,” according to a report of the findings.

The White House says it was Jackson who requested that assessment and hinted Kuhlman is behind the more recent complaints. Jackson “will certainly not be railroaded by a bitter ex-colleague who was removed from his job,” said a White House statement.

Trump caught many observers off guard when he picked Jackson to replace ousted VA Secretary David Shulkin. Unlike Shulkin, who had managed a large medical organization before joining the VA, Jackson has never overseen more than 75 people.

“I know there’s an experience problem because of lack of experience,” Trump admitted Tuesday. “But he is a man who has just been an extraordinary person. His family, extraordinary success. Great doctor. Great everything.”

Administration spokesman Gidley said, “The question is, does anyone ever have management experience for an organization this size?”

Jackson is also a blank slate on one of the key policy questions facing the VA: what role the private sector should play in providing veterans health care. Many of the large veterans service organizations are wary of what they see as a push towards privatization. Shulkin complained that he was fired, in part, for resisting that push.

Trump insisted he would stand behind his nominee, even as he suggested the political battle might not be worth it.

“I wouldn’t do it,” Trump also said Tuesday. “What does he need it for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country? I really don’t think, personally, he should do it. But it’s totally his — I would stand behind him — totally his decision.”

The president met Tuesday in the Oval Office with Jackson, a White House official confirmed to NPR.

The official, who declined to speak on the record, said Jackson wants to keep fighting and that Trump supports his decision.

Former Obama administration staffers also defended Jackson’s character, even as they questioned whether he is the right choice for the VA job. One former Obama staffer who spent a lot of time around Jackson on official trips said he had never seen evidence that Jackson drank while on duty. The former staffer said that Jackson and other White House doctors provided Ambien, a sleep medication, when staffers requested them while on overnight flights to Europe and Asia.

NPR national politics correspondent Mara Liasson contributed to this report.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.
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House Democrats Subpoena Full Mueller Report, and the Underlying Evidence

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee formally issued a subpoena on Friday demanding that the Justice Department hand over to Congress an unredacted version of Robert S. Mueller III’s report and all of the evidence underlying it by May 1.


The subpoena, one of the few issued thus far by House Democrats, escalates a fight with Attorney General William P. Barr over what material Congress is entitled to see from the special counsel’s nearly two-year investigation. The chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, asked for all evidence, including summaries of witness interviews and classified intelligence.

“My committee needs and is entitled to the full version of the report and the underlying evidence consistent with past practice,” Mr. Nadler said in a statement. “Even the redacted version of the report outlines serious instances of wrongdoing by President Trump and some of his closest associates. It now falls to Congress to determine the full scope of that alleged misconduct and to decide what steps we must take going forward.”

Mr. Nadler’s deadline falls a day before Mr. Barr is scheduled to testify publicly before the Judiciary Committee in what is expected to be an explosive session where Democrats plan to excoriate Mr. Barr’s handling of the report and Republicans will urge their colleagues to accept that there was no criminality and move on.

Mr. Barr released to Congress and the public a redacted copy of the more than 400-page report on Thursday. Though the redactions were less extensive than some Democrats feared, the Justice Department had blacked out sections of the report that it said contained classified material, secretive grand jury testimony or information that would affect investigations still underway.

Democrats have been threatening to issue a subpoena for weeks, and the Justice Department on Thursday sought to head off the subpoena with a pledge to share more information with Congress.

Stephen E. Boyd, an assistant attorney general, wrote in a letter that the department would allow the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate, as well as the heads of their judiciary and intelligence committees, to view a fuller version of the report beginning next week. But he said even that copy would still have secretive grand jury information blacked out because of legal requirements.

Given the sensitive nature of the information, Mr. Boyd wrote, “all individuals reviewing the less-redacted version” must agree to keep the newly unredacted information confidential.

Mr. Nadler rejected the proposed accommodation as insufficient on Friday. He has repeatedly asked the Justice Department to join him in requesting that a court unseal the grand jury information, in particular, for Congress to review privately. Mr. Barr has so far rejected that request.

“I am open to working with the department to reach a reasonable accommodation for access to these materials,” he said, “however I cannot accept any proposal which leaves most of Congress in the dark, as they grapple with their duties of legislation, oversight and constitutional accountability.”

(Reporting by Washington Post)

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Health

Judge Rejects Anti-Vaxxer Lawsuit Against New York City’s Vaccine Mandate

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A state judge on Thursday rejected a lawsuit filed by anti-vaccination parents who sought to lift New York City’s new measles vaccination mandate, as parts of the metropolis continue to face an outbreak.


“A fireman need not obtain the informed consent of the owner before extinguishing a house fire,” Judge Lawrence Knipel wrote in his ruling. “Vaccination is known to extinguish the fire of contagion.”

Five anonymous parents in Brooklyn filed the lawsuit earlier this week against the city health department for ordering the mandatory vaccinations in parts of the borough amid a growing outbreak of the measles virus concentrated in the Williamsburg area. The lawsuit said the city’s response is “irrational,” and that the spread of the virus does not pose a clear danger to public health.

Knipel ruled that the city’s decision to require measles vaccinations during the outbreak is supported by “largely uncontroverted” evidence.

New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot issued the emergency order on April 9, requiring everyone who lives and works within four Brooklyn ZIP codes to receive the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine if they hadn’t already gotten it. Failure to comply with the mandate could result in misdemeanor punishments, including criminal fines or imprisonment.

The city has already issued summons to three people who refused the mandate and face $1,000 in fines.

As of Wednesday, the measles outbreak has infected at least 329 people since October, mostly children from Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, according to Barbot. Many Orthodox Jewish people believe vaccinations go against Jewish or Talmudic law, resulting in low vaccination rates for some communities.

Barbot praised the decision to dismiss the lawsuit, saying in a statement to HuffPost that it “will protect New Yorkers from a very dangerous infection with potentially fatal consequences.”

She added that officials “do not want to issue violations but will continue and hope that New Yorkers make the best choice for their families, their neighbors and their own health ― to get vaccinated.”

(Reporting by HuffPost)

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Court Rulings

Federal Appeals Court Backs California Laws To Protect Immigrants

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Thursday kept in place three California laws intended to protect immigrants, continuing the state’s efforts to be a national leader in opposing Trump administration policies.


The court upheld lower court rulings denying the Trump administration’s request to block law enforcement from providing release dates and personal information of people in jail, as well as to throw out a law barring employers from allowing immigration officials on their premises unless the officials have a warrant.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected U.S. District Judge John Mendez’s reasoning last year for denying a portion of the third law, which requires the state to review detention facilities where immigrants are held. It ruled that the section requiring the state to review circumstances surrounding the apprehension and transfer of detainees puts an impermissible burden on the federal government.

But the appellate panel said Mendez can consider rejecting a preliminary injunction for that section on other legal grounds.

The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has repeatedly sued the Trump administration mostly over immigration and environmental decisions, said the ruling shows that states’ rights “continue to thrive.”

“We continue to prove in California that the rule of law not only stands for something but that people cannot act outside of it,” Becerra said in a statement.

California officials have said the immigration laws promote trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement, while the administration argued the state is allowing dangerous criminals on the streets.

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