I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, April 26, 2018. 194 days until Election Day 2018. 922 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Breaking: Embattled VA pick withdraws nomination
Dr. Ronny Jackson withdrew his nomination to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs this morning amid allegations of professional misconduct that emerged in recent days.
“While I will forever be grateful for the trust and confidence President Trump has placed in me by giving me this opportunity, I am regretfully withdrawing my nomination to be Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Jackson said in a statement.
Jackson, the White House physician, faced skepticism from the outset of his nomination: according to reports, he was largely tapped by Trump due to their personal chemistry, without extensive vetting or the support of many White House officials. A Navy rear admiral who has served as a physician to three presidents, Jackson was seen by senators of both parties as lacking the experience needed to lead the second-largest agency in the federal government. As head of the White House Medical Unit, he manages a team of about 60; the Veterans Affairs Department is a sprawling bureaucracy made up of over 370,000 employees, with a budget of nearly $200 billion and the responsibility of meeting the health care needs of more than 9 million veterans.
On Wednesday, the Democratic staff of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee released a two-page document detailing a list of allegations against Jackson based on the testimony of 23 current and former colleagues. According to the summary, Jackson was accused of creating a toxic work environment, loosely prescribing medications to White House staff, and being repeatedly drunk while on duty.
Jackson's colleagues said that he was "abusive" toward them, accused him of handing out prescription drugs "like candy," and relayed stories of White House aides finding him passed out due to intoxication when he was needed to tend to the president on a foreign trip, as well as of him drunkenly crashing a government vehicle. Jackson also allegedly filled out prescriptions for himself and once provided such "a large supply" of Percocet, a prescription opioid, to a White House Military Office staffer that his own medical team was thrown "into a panic" when it could not find the missing drugs.
Colleagues described Jackson to the committee as "the most unethical person I have ever worked with," "despicable," "dishonest," "explosive," and prone to "screaming fits."
As the accusations became public, Jackson's confirmation hearing was postponed indefinitely as lawmakers sought to investigate the claims. The White House continued to push his nomination, but it was clearly on life support, with few Republican senators willing to defend the physician.
In his statement this morning, Jackson said the allegations are "completely false and fabricated." He added: "Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this President and the important issues we must be addressing — how to give the best care to our nation's heroes."
In a phone interview with "Fox and Friends" just minutes after the withdrawal, President Trump also said they were "false accusations" by individuals "trying to destroy a man." Trump bemoaned the loss of his nominee, calling Jackson "highly respected, a real leader," and pinned blame on Senate Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member Jon Tester (D-MT). "I think this is going to cause him a lot of problems in his state," the president said of Tester.
With Jackson out of the picture, the president must find another nominee to lead the VA. Republican senators will likely exert pressure on the White House to closely vet the next nominee, unwilling to repeat the embarrassing Jackson debacle, which many GOP lawmakers reportedly saw as a major self-inflicted wound.
According to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, Jackson will continue in his post as Physician to the President "and is here at work today."
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The Latest: Investigations
Stormy Daniels: President Trump's longtime personal lawyer and "fixer," Michael Cohen, said in a Wednesday court filing that he plans to assert his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in a lawsuit brought by adult film star Stormy Daniels, who is seeking to be released from a "hush agreement" she signed with Cohen in 2016. Under the terms of the agreement, Cohen paid her $130,000 in exchange for keeping silent about her claims of having an affair with Trump.
Mueller probe: Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, the newest member of President Trump's personal legal team dealing with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, met with Mueller on Tuesday "to reopen negotiations for a presidential interview," the Washington Post reported. Giuliani told the Wall Street Journal that he is seeking to determine if Mueller has "an open mind."
Today in Congress: Pompeo confirmation, Pruitt hearings
Senate: The upper chamber votes today to confirm CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State, followed by a vote to confirm Richard Grenell to be U.S. Ambassador to Germany. Pompeo is set to be easily confirmed with bipartisan support: Democratic Sens. Doug Jones (AL), Joe Donnelly (IN), Bill Nelson (FL), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), and Joe Manchin (WV), as well as Independent Sen. Angus King (ME), have all announced plans to vote for Pompeo's confirmation.
--- The Senate Judiciary Committee marks up and votes on a bipartisan bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller today.
House: The House begins debate today over the five-year Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act.
--- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is scheduled to testify before the House Appropriations and Energy & Commerce Committees today. He is expected to face tough questions on a string of ethical controversies that have marked his tenure at EPA. Pruitt has reportedly lost the support of many Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill as well as of top aides inside the White House, including chief of staff John Kelly. Per Politico, these hearings are "potential make-or-break moments for Pruitt" as the president mulls whether he wants to remove him.
--- Pro-Trump Internet personalities Diamond and Silk will testify before the House Judiciary Committee today on "filtering practices of social media platforms," amid accusations from the duo that Facebook has limited the reach of their videos due to their conservative views.
The President's schedule
President Trump has one public event on his schedule today: a 10:30am speech at an event for participants in the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride.
*All times Eastern