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UPDATE: New Charges Against VA Nominee: ‘Candyman’ Dispensed Drugs Freely, Wrecked Car

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

White House doctor and Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson meets with Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in his office on Capitol Hill April 16, 2018.

Updated at 5:28 p.m. ET

Detailed new allegations surfaced Wednesday against President Trump’s nominee to lead the Veterans Affairs Department, including charges that Dr. Ronny Jackson improperly dispensed pain medication, and once wrecked a government vehicle while driving drunk.

Jackson denied wrecking a government vehicle. “I did not wreck a car,” Jackson told reporters at the White House Wednesday. “That should be pretty easy to prove.” Jackson also told the media he does not know where these allegations against him are coming from and that he is moving forward with his nomination.

The White House is defending the nominee, and urged the Senate’s Veterans Affairs committee to quickly reschedule his confirmation hearing.

The new charges were outlined in a two-page documentreleased by Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., the ranking Democrat on the committee. It summarizes complaints that Tester says were raised by more than 20 past and present colleagues of Jackson, a Navy admiral who has served as personal physician to Trump and former President Obama.

According to the summary, multiple staffers in the White House medical unit referred to Jackson as “Candyman” for the way he freely dispensed prescription drugs.

A nurse told committee staffers that Jackson prescribed drugs for himself. And he reportedly provided a large supply of the prescription painkiller Percocet to a staffer in the White House military office. Colleagues reported that controlled substances were often not properly accounted for.

The allegations in the committee summary have not been independently verified.

“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 EditionWednesday, before the most recent allegations surfaced.

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. Complaints have also been raised that Jackson drank on duty and fostered a hostile work environment.

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

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.

On Tuesday, the president appeared to be clearing the way to withdraw Jackson’s nomination.

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

But after an Oval Office meeting Tuesday afternoon, Jackson insisted he wanted a chance to defend his reputation.

“Dr. Jackson’s record as a White House physician has been impeccable,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters Wednesday. “In fact, because Dr. Jackson has worked within arm’s reach of three presidents, he has received more vetting than most nominees.”

President Trump shakes hands with White House Physician Rear Adm. Dr. Ronny Jackson, following his annual physical at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on January 12, 2018.

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.”

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 White House correspondent Ayesha Roscoe and NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson contributed to this report.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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