Adm. Ronny Jackson, President Trump’s choice to head the Veteran’s Administration, learned last week that in today’s Washington, character assassination is the name of the game. Republican senators looked the other way as Democrats, led by Montana Sen. Jon Tester, leaked unsubstantiated charges from unnamed accusers claiming the decorated veteran as an incompetent pill pusher, bully and uncontrollable drunk. By week’s end the admiral, knowing that he was never going to be confirmed anyway, removed himself from consideration.
The allegations had never been vetted, but Mr. Tester leaked them anyway in an ultimately successful effort to derail yet another Trump appointee. Senate Democrats are waging all-out war against Trump nominees and seem to have no qualms about inventing allegations the president might dismiss as “fake news” to achieve their goals. In this instance, Mr. Tester was the chosen assassin by virtue of his ranking position on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and his constant posturing as the guardian of veteran’s rights. He took to the task with real enthusiasm, ensuring that a floundering agency will continue leaderless for the foreseeable future.
They knocked the admiral out, but as the dust was settling it became clear that Mr. Tester’s charges were pure bunkum, made up and circulated to destroy the admiral’s reputation simply because Mr. Trump nominated him.
Adm. Jackson is a veteran of the war on terror and has served three presidents as White House physician. None of them noticed the behavior that so concerned Mr. Tester, and former President Barack Obama was impressed by Adm. Jackson’s intelligence, diligence and competence, writing that “Ronny has earned my confidence and the gratitude of my family for his diligence and knowledge.”
Those words don’t sound like a presidential description of a pill-pushing aide who was a falling-down drunk and who had, in Mr. Tester’s opinion, created a “hostile work environment” in the White House, but of an aide who earned the respect of both the president and his family.
Mr. Tester issued a two-page list of allegations against the admiral, documenting charges that he claimed came from “multiple” or sometimes 23 unnamed sources who he later claimed were themselves veterans concerned only about the future of the VA. Among the most serious charges was that following a party, the admiral took off in his government-owned vehicle and wrecked it while driving drunk.
Unfortunately for Mr. Tester, it turns out this never happened. On another occasion, Mr. Tester claimed Adm. Jackson was so drunk while accompanying President Obama on a foreign trip that he began belligerently pounding on a woman staffer’s door in the hotel room next to the president, forcing the Secret Service to intervene, but the Secret Service says the incident never took place. An audit of the White House pharmacy also put the lie to Mr. Tester’s allegation that the admiral was passing out free drugs to all and sundry.
Mr. Tester is a real piece of work. He projects an image in his home state of Montana that is decidedly different than the one gets of him in Washington. The Washington Post has described him as “a walking contradiction” who strives to persuade Montanans that he works with and even supports President Trump who carried the state by 20 points in 2016, “while standing with the ‘resistance’” in the Senate. His voting record confirms this; Mr. Tester has voted consistently with Senate Democratic leaders who, in return, allow him to vote “his state” on inconsequential matters.
The question is whether he will get away with using false and unsubstantiated charges to play his colleagues, the media and even the White House. After sacrificing his credibility to advance his party’s desire to destroy a Trump nominee, he refuses to apologize or even acknowledge that he did anything wrong. As his allegations were revealed as false, he simply muttered at one point that he “thought” he was doing the “right thing” to “protect” America’s veterans.
When Mr. Trump called out Mr. Tester for what he’s done, the Tester campaign staff hastily put together a press conference back in Montana to give some hand-picked veterans a chance to defend their champion. The two most quoted were veterans not just of the military but of the Montana legislature where, as loyal Democrats like the senator they were defending, apparently put party above all else.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.
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