Back in 2018, reports surfaced that the White House physician, a now-retired one-star admiral representing Texas in the House of Representatives, had crashed a government vehicle while drunk. The Defense Department inspector general investigation that followed dropped on Tuesday, presenting a much broader picture of misconduct.
The report, spurred by a dozen IG hotline complaints in spring 2018 after his nomination for VA secretary, found that Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson, who had also served in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, presided over a toxic command climate at the White House Medical Unit and drank alcohol while on duty during official, international travel, but not that he ever damaged government property in doing so.
“We concluded that [Rear Adm.] Jackson’s overall course of conduct toward subordinates disparaged, belittled, bullied, and humiliated them, and fostered a negative work environment by failing to treat subordinates with dignity and respect,” according to a Tuesday DoD IG statement. “We also concluded that [Rear Adm.] Jackson failed to conduct himself in an exemplary manner in his treatment of subordinates throughout his tenure at WHMU. His treatment of subordinates created a negative work environment that witnesses said made an unfavorable impact on the overall command climate.”
That included Jackson knocking on a female subordinate’s hotel room door in the middle of the night and drunkenly declaring, “I need you,” according to the report.
The investigation also found that Jackson took the prescription sleep aid Ambien during long-haul international trips during which he was responsible for responding to medical emergencies, but could not find any formal White House policy that prevented its use.
“While the WHMO policy memorandum required [Rear Adm.] Jackson to notify his supervisor in advance of taking Ambien, we did not ascertain if he provided such a notification,” according to the release.
Jackson is refuting all of the allegations, accusing Democrats of resurrecting old Obama-era rumors “because I have refused to turn my back on President Trump.”
His press secretary, Casey Nelson, provided Military Times with a “fact sheet,” pointing out that then-President Barack Obama promoted him to rear admiral in 2016 following the alleged alcohol incidents, calling those who reported him in 2018 “disgruntled subordinates.”
The IG interviewed 60 White House employees, 56 of whom said they were the target of or were aware of Jackson “yelling, screaming, cursing or belittling subordinates.”
“They told us that [Rear Adm.] Jackson would have quick bursts of anger, was prone to cursing, would call subordinates names, had an explosive temper, and established a workplace of fear and intimidation,” according to the report. “The witnesses described how [Rear Adm.] Jackson’s behavior had a negative effect that permeated throughout the unit, telling us that nurses were stressed, doctors felt demoralized, and that the unit had the worst command climate they had ever experienced.
In the document his press secretary provided, Jackson lamented that he has not has been afforded “due process,” though an IG investigation is not a legal proceeding, as well as the opportunity to face his accusers ― a step that is purposely not part of the IG process, in order to protect whistleblowers.
“I’m proud of the work environment I fostered under three different presidents of both parties; I take my professional responsibility with respect to prescription drug practices seriously; and I flat out reject any allegation that I consumed alcohol while on duty,” Jackson said in a statement. “I also categorically deny any implication that I was in any way sexually inappropriate at work, outside of work, or anywhere with any member of my staff or anyone else. That is not me and what is alleged did not happen.”
Jackson declined to respond to the IG’s findings before it finalized its report. Its recommendations call for the Navy secretary to take “appropriate action” against Jackson, which could involve recalling him to active duty to face charges.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.