The White House physician, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, dropped his bid Thursday to head the country's Veterans Affairs agency as lawmakers probed allegations of professional misconduct and excessive drinking.
As he withdrew, Jackson described the attacks on him as "false allegations," but said they had "become a distraction" to President Donald Trump's effort to improve health care for U.S. veterans.
Trump, in an interview on his favorite news talk show, "Fox & Friends," continued to defend Jackson, his personal physician, saying, "He runs a fantastic operation."
Trump blamed Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, for the demise of Jackson's nomination to the Cabinet position to oversee a department that serves 13 million U.S. veterans and has 377,000 employees. Tester said Wednesday that 20 current and former members of the military familiar with Jackson's office had told lawmakers that he drank on the job, oversaw a toxic work environment and handed out drug prescriptions with little consideration of a patient's medical background.
"They're trying to destroy a man," Trump said. "There's no proof of this." He said Tester "has to have a high price to pay" politically for his comments on Jackson.
The U.S. leader said he now has "somebody with a political background" in mind to name as a replacement for Jackson to head the Veterans Affairs agency.
Jackson said if the allegations "had any merit, I would not have been selected, promoted and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the past 12 years. Going into this process, I expected tough questions about how to best care for our veterans, but I did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity."
He concluded, "While I will forever be grateful for the trust and confidence President Trump has placed in me by giving me this opportunity, I am regretfully withdrawing my nomination to be Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs."
Trump said in the Fox interview he had told Jackson "a day or two ago I saw where this was going," with him dropping his effort to win Senate confirmation, but had left it up to Jackson to decide whether to do so.
Jackson was fast losing support in Congress.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers indefinitely postponed Jackson's scheduled Wednesday confirmation hearing as they investigated the allegations.
Several news outlets reported that Jackson was known as the "candy man" for over-prescribing drug prescriptions, while CNN said that in one 2015 incident Jackson drunkenly banged on the hotel room door of a female employee in the middle of the night on an overseas trip. The U.S. Secret Service intervened to stop Jackson, according to the report, so then-President Barack Obama, sleeping in another hotel room, would not be awakened.
Jackson gained a degree of fame unusual for White House physicians earlier this year when he took questions from the White House press corps on national television, gushing at length about Trump's health after conducting the president's physical exam.
Trump, the oldest first-term president in American history, was plagued at the time by questions about his physical health, weight and mental stability. But Jackson gave the president a top rating. "The president's overall health is excellent," Jackson declared at the time.
Trump unexpectedly picked Jackson to replace a holdover from the administration of former President Obama, David Shulkin, whom Trump fired. Several lawmakers have complained that the White House did not properly vet Jackson's background before Trump announced Jackson's appointment.