The Pentagon inspector general tells us that many who worked with Ronny Jackson — the former Trump White House physician and now a member of Congress from Texas — think he was a “tyrant” and a “dictator” prone to “yelling, screaming, cursing, or belittling subordinates.”
Witnesses say he suffered “meltdowns” and “tantrums” and made “sexual and denigrating comments” about a female subordinate (allegations he denies).
Trump called this man “one of the finest people that I have met”– and then similar accusations scuttled his attempt to make Jackson his Veterans Administration chief, so he created a new job for him: “Assistant to the President and Chief Medical Advisor.”
As with so many chapters in the Trump saga, the tale of Ronny Jackson illustrates the strange way that the former president either attracts people, especially men, who share his bullying and deceptive ways, or shapes them to fit the mold. A year ago, Jackson said that once he declaimed on the former president’s health status before the national media, “I got the Trump stamp on me completely”… and not in a good way. The association would end up serving him well just the same.
Jackson, who also served as White House Physician for Barack Obama, gained national attention — and Donald Trump’s devoted support — in 2018, when he declared Trump to be in “excellent” health, despite being obese, because of his “good genes.” Jackson didn’t mention test results indicating heart disease and downplayed sleep habits that would make anyone chronically exhausted. Trump “has a very unique ability to just get up in the morning and reset,” said Jackson. With a healthy diet, he added, “He might live to be 200 years old.”
With his performance in the White House press room, Jackson guaranteed himself a place next to Harold Bornstein, MD in the Hack Trump Doctor Hall of Fame. Bornstein, you’ll recall, signed his name to a letter he said Trump had dictated, declaring his patient would “be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” But Bornstein wasn’t accused of the alleged toxic behavior the inspector general reported about Jackson after reviewing documents and interviewing 78 witnesses.
In a statement to CNN on Tuesday, Jackson claimed the report was politically motivated and that the inspector general “resurrected” old allegations against him because he refused to “turn my back on President (Donald) Trump,” who was a vocal supporter of his 2020 congressional bid. He also told CNN he rejects “any allegation that I consumed alcohol while on duty.”
The IG probe, which began in 2018, uncovered problems far more serious than goofball claims that Trump is a superior human specimen who could defy medical science on things like diet and exercise. According to the IG, witnesses allege that Jackson broke rules by drinking alcohol on presidential trips and taking prescription sleeping pills that could have impaired his responsibility to take care of the president.
In the report, witnesses on a presidential trip to the Philippines during the Obama administration described Jackson’s alleged behavior of heavy drinking and mistreatment of subordinates, with one witness saying he made a “sexually inappropriate comment.”
Though concerning, the reported incidents involving alcohol and pills were not as widely noted as allegations of Jackson’s abusive behavior as a leader. Out of 60 people who spoke to the IG about Jackson’s leadership, only 13 shared positive comments. Another 38 offered accounts of unprofessional conduct. One person said Jackson “established a workplace where fear and intimidation were kind of the hallmarks of him, his command, and control of his subordinates.”
This should sound familiar.
Fear figures so prominently in Donald Trump’s leadership style that Bob Woodward titled his 2018 bestseller about the 45th president “Fear: Trump in the White House.” In his account of his years as Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen described a bully, a “con man” and “a cheat” who would insult his own children.
In light of what Cohen and Woodward had to say about their subject, the IG report about Jackson suggests he was just the type of person Trump had in mind when he said in 2016 that he would surround himself with “only the best” people. In office Trump then presided over an administration that was racked by scandals, many of which were caused by the behavior of the “best” people. Turnover occurred at an astonishing rate as high-level appointees ran into ethics scandals. But Jackson’s stock rose, and he showed he was willing to shamelessly spin the press, just like his boss.
In February 2018 Trump appointed Jackson to replace the head of the VA who had, himself, been felled by a scandal. Two months later Jackson withdrew from consideration amid allegations of misbehavior, which he termed “completely false and fabricated.” Those allegations closely resembled the charges detailed in the new IG report. “These are all false accusations,” Trump told “Fox & Friends” in a phone call at the time. “There’s no proof of this. He’s got a beautiful record.”
Last year, in true Trumpian fashion, Jackson would trade on his relationship with the President as he campaigned for his new job representing Texas’ 13th District. Trump did not actively campaign for him, but had privately urged him to run — and Trump “allies and aides” pitched in to help him get elected, according to a report in the New York Times.
If the Pentagon inspector general is to be believed, Jackson didn’t have to work too hard to gain that kind of approval from Trump. He proved himself to be a Trump man with all the “yelling, screaming, cursing or belittling” others said was his leadership style.
But Trump’s version of leadership wore thin with voters who, after a single term, bounced him out of office by a decisive 7 million votes. Like Trump, Jackson won his first elective office, not on the basis of his political experience but while spreading conspiratorial claims about Barack Obama and the “Deep State.”
Now, as scandal looms, Jackson insists he’s being subjected to a “hit job” (remember: the IG report interviewed 78 people — the report was hardly cooked up). Trump tried the same thing, complaining of witch hunts as his scandals piled one upon the other. If he likes his job in Congress, Jackson might reconsider that approach.
Just look at how it worked out for the man now known as the “former guy” in the White House.