Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, who had come under fire over allegations that he drank on the job and passed out pills without prescriptions, withdrew his name from consideration Thursday to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.
An early morning statement from the White House said that Jackson, the personal physician to President Donald Trump and head of the White House medical unit, was dropping out to avoid defending himself against "false allegations" at what had been expected to be a grueling and sensational Senate confirmation hearing.
The statement said that Jackson had been blindsided by the allegations from anonymous colleagues and "did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity."
On Wednesday, the White House appeared to be settling in for a lengthy battle to save the nomination, even as new allegations emerged that Jackson had gotten drunk at a going away party for a Secret Service agent and then wrecked a government vehicle on his way home.
A two-page summary of the allegations against Jackson prepared by Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee concluded that he often drank on the job, improperly handed out medications, and presided over a hostile work environment for the White House medical staff.
However, the main criticism of Jackson was that he lacked the managerial experience to handle the vast bureaucracy of the VA and deal with the political infighting that led to the firing of former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin.
"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.
"Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this President and the important issue we must be addressing -- how we give the best care to our nation's heroes," he said.
Trump's selection of Jackson to head the government's second-largest department after the Pentagon came as a surprise after several other potential nominees reportedly turned down the job.
Trump was said to have been impressed by his personal connection with Jackson and Jackson's on-camera glowing report on Trump's condition after a physical.
The opposition to Jackson's nomination began with doubts about his experience and ability to take charge at the troubled VA and escalated with the allegations from former colleagues at the White House medical unit disseminated by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, the ranking member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
On Wednesday, Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minnesota, the ranking member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called on Jackson to withdraw.
"Not only does Adm. Jackson lack the management experience necessary to successfully lead the 360,000-person, nearly $200 billion federal agency, it is apparent there are also serious questions about his character and job performance," Walz said.
On Wednesday night, Trump called in to Fox News to rip Tester and other critics of Jackson. "He would have done a great job," Trump said of Jackson. "Tremendous heart. These are all false accusations. They're trying to destroy a man. By the way, I did say, 'Welcome to Washington. Welcome to the swamp.' "
Trump said of Tester, who is up for re-election in the fall, "I think Jon Tester has a big price to pay in Montana."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.