Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper about the allegations reported against President Trump's embattled Veteran Affairs nominee, White House doctor Ronny Jackson. Sources have told Senate Democrats that Jackson is a bad boss, yelling and abusing his subordinates. They've also accused him of drinking on the job and handing out prescription drugs to White House staff.
Tester said Jackson was allegedly called the "Candy Man" by staffers in the Obama administration because he would give out sleeping pills during flights on Air Force One. He also gave out pep pills upon landing. "That’s not a nickname you want in a doctor. And if you consider the prescription drugs [problem] we have a problem within this country right now, it’s not the example we need to have set," Tester said.
"We were told time and time again, the people above him, he treated like gold. The people below him, he belittled, screamed at them, really created a very toxic environment to the point where the people that worked around him felt like they had to walk on eggshells because of his lack of respect for their jobs." Sen. Tester also said, saying he spoke with up to 20 current or former military doctors who have worked with Jackson over the years. "Our vetting is not through yet. We still have more information to gather."
Jackson is also accused of failing to do his job at least once because he was drunk on a foreign trip with the White House entourage.
SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT), VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: It’s great to be with you. Thank you.
COOPER: There are a number of allegations and there’s a lot of information I know that you are allowed to share with us I think for the first time. I understand there are three major allegations and I kind of want to go through them one by one. First of all, the allegation that he improperly dispensed prescription drugs -- do you know what drugs were dispensed?
TESTER: Yes, I can’t tell you exactly the name because I’m not a pharmacist but these are drugs that are meant to put people asleep and wake them back up. They’re controlled substances. They’re prescriptions. The word is, is that on overseas trips in particular, the admiral would go down the aisle way of the airplane and say, all right, who wants to go to sleep and hand out the prescription drugs.
COOPER: So, you’re talking about like an Ambien type?
TESTER: Yes, that’s exactly right. And put them to sleep and them give them the drugs to wake them back up again.
COOPER: The wake-up drugs you’re talking about I assume is something like Provigil.
TESTER: That’s correct.
COOPER: Officially for narcolepsy or (INAUDIBLE) dopamine.
TESTER: Yes, no. I mean, it’s -- you know, these are called controlled substances for a reason. We have --
COOPER: So, you’d actually just go down the aisle and sort of say who wants to go to sleep? Who wants to wake up?
TESTER: That’s the reports we got from the people, the 20-some people who got ahold of us and said, we got a problem. This doctor has a problem because he hands out prescriptions like candy. In fact, in the White House, they called him the candy man.
COOPER: So, just want to be clear. Ambien is actually one of the drugs?
TESTER: I can get you the --
TESTER: You know, it’s a drug, it’s a prescription drug and I can get you the name –
COOPER: Your staff had told us Ambien and Provigil.
TESTER: Bingo. Those are the ones.
COOPER: OK, all right. And I understand he had a nickname in the White House, among some of the White House staff?
TESTER: Yes, and it was the "candy man" because he handed out prescriptive drugs like they were candy.
COOPER: The White House doctor is nicknamed among some people in the White House was the "candy man"?
TESTER: That’s correct. That’s correct. That’s what we were told.
COOPER: That’s not a nickname you want in a doctor.
TESTER: That’s not a nickname you want in a doctor. And if you consider the prescription drugs we have a problem with in this country right now, it’s the example we need to have set.
COOPER: The second allegation is that Dr. Jackson was repeatedly drunk on duty while overseas with the president. Under which administration did this happen?
TESTER: It was the previous administration. It was the Obama administration. And the truth is, is that Admiral Jackson was the primary health care provider for the president.
And if you’re drunk and something happens with the president, it’s very difficult to go in and treat the president or whatever needs to be done. So, this is totally unacceptable under this environment. And that’s what multiple people told us this was the case on several different trips.
COOPER: Do you know under what circumstances he was drinking? Social occasions?
TESTER: I believe they were social. You know, there were comments about him being in the hotel room and couldn't respond because he had been drinking so much.
COOPER: He couldn't actually respond to request somebody made with him?
TESTER: That’s right. Somebody else did it. That's right.
COOPER: Someone else had to fill in.
TESTER: Yes, that's correct.
COOPER: Was the Secret Service aware of this, do you know?
TESTER: I believe the Secret Service was aware of it, but we haven't talked to any Secret Service agents.
COOPER: And just to be clear --
TESTER: The folks we talked to, by the way, to be clear, are active military and retired military completely. They were not civilians off the street. They were working in the White House. These were military folks that worked in the White House medical unit (ph).
COOPER: So these are people actually worked in the office?
TESTER: Active duty and retired.
COOPER: In the medical office in the White House?
COOPER: And you said you talked to as many as 20 people.
TESTER: That's correct.
COOPER: And so, these allegations come from -- I assume not all 20 but multiple people among those 20?
TESTER: Multiple sources. That's correct. Yes.
COOPER: The other allegation, the third allegation; creating a toxic work environment, also allegations of harassment. What exactly is being alleged there.
TESTER: Well, I mean, and this was people that were below him, not people above him. We were told time and time again, the people above him, he treated like gold. The people below him, he belittled, screamed at them, really created a very toxic environment to the point where the people that worked around him felt like they had to walk on egg shells because of -- because of his lack of respect for their jobs.