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.
Legendary singer Aretha Franklin dies at age 76
Legendary singer Aretha Franklin has died.
The 76-year-old Queen of Soul was said to be “surrounded” by her closest friends and family in recent days, after battling extensive health problems in recent years.
The legendary singer was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and delivered her most recent performance at the Elton John AIDS Foundation party in New York last November.
This is a Breaking News Story.
1954 – Sings her first solo at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.
1956 – Along with her two sisters, performs backup on her father’s gospel recording for Gotham Records.
1960 – Leaves Detroit for New York, signs with Columbia Records and releases first album, “The Great Aretha Franklin.”
1967 – Leaves Columbia Records after an unsuccessful attempt at developing a jazz style; signs with Atlantic Records; wins Grammy Award Best R&B Recording for “Respect.”
1967-1974 – Wins a total of ten Grammy Awards.
January 20, 1977 – Performs “God Bless America” at the inauguration gala of President Jimmy Carter.
1980 – Appears in the movie “The Blues Brothers” and performs the song “Think”; leaves Atlantic Records for Arista Records.
1981 – Wins Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for “Hold On I’m Comin’.”
1985 – Wins Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for “Freeway Of Love.”
January 3, 1987 – Is the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
1987 – Wins two Grammy Awards for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for “Aretha” and Best R&B Performance by a Duo, with George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).”
1988 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance, Female for “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.”
1991 – Receives the Grammy Legend Award.
January 20, 1993 – Performs “I Dreamed a Dream” at the inauguration ball of President Bill Clinton.
1994 – Receives the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She is the youngest recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor at that time.
1997 – Performs an aria from Puccini’s La Boheme at the wedding of Vice-President Al Gore’s daughter, Karenna.
February 6, 1998 – Reprises her roll of Mrs. Murphy from “The Blues Brothers” in the sequel “The Blues Brothers 2000.”
February 25, 1998 – Substitutes for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti at the Grammy Awards performing “Nessun Dorma” by Puccini, unrehearsed.
September 1, 1999 – Publishes an autobiography “Aretha: From These Roots,” where she discusses her private and personal life for the first time.
September 22, 1999 – Is named a winner of the National Medal of Arts by the National Endowment for the Arts.
2003 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for “Wonderful.”
March 2004 – Is hospitalized and released for allergic reaction to antibiotics.
2004 – Starts her own record label, Aretha’s Records.
2005 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for “A House Is Not A Home.”
November 5, 2005 – Is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.
2006 – After Franklin points out that no Motown talent was appearing in the Detroit Super Bowl halftime show, the NFL asks her to sing the national anthem along with Aaron Neville prior to the game.
2007 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Gospel Performance for “Never Gonna Break My Faith,” shared with Mary J. Blige.
February 10, 2008 – Is Grammy’s 2008 MusiCares Person of the Year.
February 14, 2008 – Receives the NAACP Vanguard Award at the annual Image Awards ceremony.
January 20, 2009 – Performs “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
February 2010 – A Snickers commercial starring Franklin and Liza Minnelli airs for the first time.
July 27, 2010 – Appears on stage with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on piano, in Philadelphia, to raise money for charity. Rice is a classical pianist. They perform individually and together, classical, pop and patriotic selections.
August 1, 2010 – Falls in her home, breaking two ribs. The incident forces her to cancel concert appearances for August.
February 25, 2011 – During an interview with Wendy Williams, Franklin reveals a loss of 85 lbs. The ailment that resulted in surgery in December remains undisclosed and a topic of conversation she dismisses with the comment, “I’ve left that behind, I’m feeling wonderful.”
May 3, 2011 – Releases new album, “Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love.”
October 8, 2014 – Achieves a milestone in music history by becoming the first female to earn her 100th hit on Billboard’s Hot R&B song chart with “Rolling in the Deep (The Aretha Version).”
October 21, 2014 – Releases a new album, “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics.”
March 5, 2015 – Performs live on the Motown themed episode of American Idol in Detroit.
February 7, 2017 – Franklin announces she will retire from performing in concert after the release of one more album. “I am retiring this year, she told a local television station in Detroit. “I will be recording, but this will be my last year in concert.”
Car crashes into security barriers outside Houses Of Parliament
Kremlin “pleased” with Helsinki summit, US and Western intelligence assesses
Russian officials were “pleased” with the Helsinki summit between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, US and Western intelligence agencies have found, according to two intelligence sources with knowledge of the assessments.
The assessments, based on a broad range of intelligence, indicate that the Kremlin believes the July 16 summit delivered a better outcome than it had expected, but that Moscow is perplexed that Trump is not delivering more Russia-friendly policies in its aftermath.
The intelligence sources say the Russians were particularly satisfied with the press conference the two leaders gave in Helsinki after Trump and Putin met for about two hours without staff and accompanied only by translators. In the 45-minute press conference, Trump discredited US intelligence and American policies more broadly, saying “the United States has been foolish” about ties with Russia, a country that has engaged in ongoing attacks on US democracy.
A spokesperson for the Office of Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, and the White House did not respond to request for comment.
The administration’s decision last week to impose sanctions on Russia for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter left Russian officials puzzled that the President is not delivering more favorable policies.
Trump has repeatedly called for warmer relations with Moscow, but the Kremlin is neglecting to factor in the considerable role that Congress and others play in US policy-making, a Western intelligence official said.
Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov’s comments last week reflected the deflated Russian hopes for improved ties with Washington or at least less punitive US policies.
“President Putin said in Helsinki that Russia still has hopes for the creation of a constructive relationship with Washington…We are sorry that often we are not met with cooperation on this account,” Peskov said Aug. 9 in a regular press call with reporters.
Peskov’s comments contrasted sharply with the evaluation Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offered immediately after the summit, when he said that the talks had been “better than super.”
Trump’s performance in Helsinki sparked unusually public criticism, even from within his own party.
The administration’s decision to impose the sanctions followed a July 26 letter from GOP Congressman Ed Royce, the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, urging the White House to comply with a law requiring the US to levy sanctions against countries that violate the 1991 Chemical and Biological Weapons and Warfare Elimination Act.
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