'Frat Boy-Type Behavior:' Admiral Serving as White House Doctor Made Sexual Comments, Drank on the Job, IG Finds

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then-White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson speaks
In this Jan. 16, 2018, file photo, then-White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson speaks to reporters during the daily press briefing in the Brady press briefing room at the White House, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

A new report from the Defense Department's inspector general blasts Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, for his conduct while serving as White House physician during the Obama and Trump administrations.

The IG concluded that Jackson, who was a one-star Navy rear admiral at the time, made "sexual and denigrating" comments about a female medical subordinate. The IG also talked to 56 witnesses who worked with Jackson between 2012 and 2018 who experienced, saw or heard about him yelling, cursing or belittling subordinates.

He also drank alcohol, in violation of regulations prohibiting him from doing so while he was providing medical care for the president, during two trips accompanying Obama: an April 2014 trip to Manila in the Philippines, and a March 2016 trip to Bariloche, Argentina.

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CNN first reported the OIG's findings.

At least six witnesses who served as medical personnel told investigators that Jackson took the prescription sleep aid Ambien on long flights, while he was on duty. This alarmed the witnesses, because Ambien can impair users' mental alertness and frequently leaves people drowsy. However, there is no specific restriction against using Ambien on long flights, the IG said.

The IG did not substantiate an allegation that Jackson got drunk and wrecked a government vehicle, or another that he expected liquor to be stocked in his lodging room while on official travel.

The allegations of drinking on duty and other misconduct sank President Donald Trump's bid to make Jackson secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and held up his promotion to receive a second star.

In a statement, Jackson said the allegations in the report are false, and that he was the "subject of a political hit job because I stood with President Trump."

"I'm proud of the work environment I fostered under three different presidents of both parties," he said. "I have not and will not ever conduct myself in a way that undermines the sincerity with which I take my oath to my country or my constituents."

Jackson denied consuming alcohol while on duty and said he takes his professional responsibilities regarding prescription drugs seriously.

He also denied acting sexually inappropriate in any way, inside or outside of work, with anyone, including members of his staff.

"That is not me, and what is alleged did not happen," Jackson said.

The IG concluded in the report posted online Wednesday that Jackson "disparaged, belittled, bullied and humiliated" his subordinates; "failed to conduct himself in an exemplary manner" in the way he treated subordinates; and "fostered a negative work environment" by failing to treat them with dignity and respect.

Witnesses described an April 2014 trip to Manila supporting former President Obama, during which Jackson drank in the hotel lobby one evening and then hit the town.

A witness said that subordinates met up with Jackson at a restaurant that evening. He appeared to have a "buzz" but was still functional and able to communicate, the witness said. According to the statement, the witness could smell alcohol on him; Jackson's face was flushed, and it was clear he had already been drinking. Jackson then drank four to six more alcoholic beverages, on top of what he had consumed before arriving, the report states.

A female subordinate told investigators that Jackson pounded on her hotel door in the middle of the night. When she opened it, she told investigators, he was leaning against her doorway with bloodshot eyes and seemed "visibly intoxicated."

"You could smell the alcohol on his breath, and he leaned into my room and he said, 'I need you,'" the witness said.

She said she was very uncomfortable and wasn't sure what he meant. She stepped back and asked what he needed her for, wondering whether there was a medical problem she needed to help with.

"And he told me, he 'needed me' again and, 'I need you to come to my room,'" the witness said.

Another witness grabbed Jackson by his shoulder, asked what he was doing, and said he would take Jackson back to his room.

"RDML Jackson kept pointing to the female subordinate and said, 'No, no. We need her. We need her. Get her. We need her,'" the witness stated.

The female subordinate looked at the other witness with concern, according to the report, but felt reassured that the other witness would not leave her alone with Jackson.

She dressed, and all three returned to Jackson's room, where he loudly announced his intention to eat a local egg dish called balut.

The female subordinate told investigators that Jackson said, "Take my phone. Take my phone. We need to take pictures. I want to film this. I want to film myself eating these eggs."

"And he's screaming," the report quoted the subordinate saying. "I kind of describe this as like frat boy-type behavior."

Jackson started to eat the balut, the female subordinate told investigators, and screamed, "It f---ing stinks. I can feel its f---ing feathers."

The female subordinate thought to herself, "I'm done," grabbed her medical bag and started to return to her room, she reported. As she was leaving Jackson's room, a Secret Service agent told her he thought Jackson was going to wake Obama up, she added.

The next day, the other witness told the female subordinate that Jackson had made crude comments about her body and said he wanted to see more of her tattoos, according to the report.

During the 2016 Argentina trip, Jackson gave his medical bag to another member of the team. A witness said Jackson then drank a beer in the early afternoon. Though he was not on duty for at least three hours after drinking the beer, another witness said that Jackson "smelled of alcohol" when he took control of the medical bag again.

Witnesses said that Jackson's "yelling, screeching, rage, tantrums and meltdowns" when dealing with subordinates were commonplace. He had quick bursts of anger, frequently cursed, and would call subordinates names, the report states. Only four other witnesses interviewed had never experienced, seen or heard of this behavior, it adds.

Morale plummeted in the medical unit. Nurses were stressed and doctors felt demoralized, the IG said. One witness said Jackson's behavior had subordinates "walk[ing] on eggshells quite a bit," and that they didn't feel like they could tell him no or push back on anything because it would anger him.

Witnesses used terms such as "toxic leader" and "tyrant" to describe Jackson in interviews.

"I never saw [Jackson] reward anyone," one unidentified witness said. "I only saw him break people down."

The investigation was launched in May 2018, after the Senate Armed Services Committee asked the IG to look into allegations against Jackson. The DoD hotline also received 12 complaints about Jackson's behavior between late April and early June 2018.

But the IG said investigators' efforts were hampered by Trump administration resistance to allowing Jackson and other medical employees to be interviewed. The IG had several conversations with the Office of the White House Counsel, which would not allow Jackson to be interviewed without the presence of attorneys from that office.

The IG ultimately agreed to conduct the interview with Jackson's personal attorneys and White House attorneys present. But during that October 2018 interview, the IG said, White House attorneys told Jackson not to answer any questions about events following his July 2013 appointment as the official physician to the president.

Because most of the allegations involved conduct that followed that appointment, the IG said, "Our interview of RDML Jackson was limited in scope and unproductive."

The White House counsel's office also insisted its attorneys be present during all interviews of current White House Medical Unit employees who interacted with Jackson. The IG felt that could have had a "chilling effect" on the interviews, preventing investigators from receiving accurate testimony. So the IG chose not to pursue testimony from current employees and relied on former employees and documents.

The IG suspended field work on the investigation in October 2018 to talk with the White House counsel about their concerns, and whether Trump would invoke executive privilege, which he ultimately did not do. Ten months later, in August 2019, the IG told the White House it planned to continue investigating Jackson.

Investigators also interviewed 78 witnesses and reviewed documents from the White House Military Office and the White House Medical Unit.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

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