Donald Trump has called for the resignation of Jon Tester, the Democratic senator who released details of allegations against Ronny Jackson, the White House doctor who withdrew his nomination to be secretary of veterans affairs.
“Allegations made by Senator Jon Tester against Admiral/Doctor Ron Jackson are proving false,” the president tweeted. “The Secret Service is unable to confirm (in fact they deny) any of the phony Democrat charges which have absolutely devastated the wonderful Jackson family. Tester should resign.”
Before playing golf in Virginia on Saturday morning, Trump added a shot aimed at voters in Montana, where Tester will run for a third term in November against an as yet undecided Republican. The GOP primary, on 5 June, will feature one candidate who has hired an aide who lied about the assault of a Guardian reporter by congressman Greg Gianforte in 2017.
The Senate majority whip, John Cornyn, said on Thursday Tester had “poked the bear”, inviting Trump to intervene in a state he won by 20 points in 2016. On Saturday morning Trump duly growled, writing: “The great people of Montana will not stand for this kind of slander when talking of a great human being.
“Admiral Jackson is the kind of man that those in Montana would most respect and admire, and now, for no reason whatsoever, his reputation has been shattered. Not fair, Tester!”
After his outing to his golf club in northern Virginia, Trump returned to the offensive, comparing the allegations against Jackson to the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. “Secret Service has just informed me that Senator Jon Tester’s statements on Admiral Jackson are not true,” he wrote. “There were no such findings.
“A horrible thing that we in DC must live with, just like phony Russian Collusion. Tester should lose race in Montana. Very dishonest and sick!”
Jackson’s nomination to run the sprawling VA came after he delivered a glowing endorsement of Trump’s health. His nomination immediately attracted criticism, given his lack of relevant bureaucratic experience.
Tester is the ranking Democrat on the Senate veterans affairs committee, the panel which considered the nomination. His office collected allegations of misconduct, which included a claim that Jackson “got drunk and wrecked a government vehicle” at a secret service party.
Democratic staff on the Senate committee also claimed the doctor doled out such a large supply of a prescription opioids that his staffers panicked because they thought the drugs were missing. They said their allegations were based on conversations with 23 of Jackson’s current and former colleagues at the White House medical unit.
Jackson has called the accusations “baseless and anonymous attacks” and “completely false and fabricated”.
In a statement on Saturday, Tester said: “It’s my duty to make sure Montana veterans get what they need and have earned, and I’ll never stop fighting for them as their senator.”
An email from the senator’s office added: “President Trump has signed eight of Tester’s bills into law to hold the [Department of Veterans Affairs] accountable and improve care and benefits for veterans.”
On Friday, the White House released records it said raised doubt about some of the most serious allegations. The records, including police reports, showed Jackson was in three minor incidents in government vehicles in the last five years, but none involved alcohol and he was not found to be at fault.
The White House medical unit passed regular controlled substance audits, according to records for the last three years. The reviews did recommend improvements to the unit’s handling of controlled substances, but did not find misconduct.
The documents were the result of an internal White House review, covering recent years. Tester’s office has not specified the time frame in which the alleged misconduct occurred. Tester’s spokeswoman, Marnee Banks, told the AP the office would not comment until it knew more about the White House records.
The secret service issued a statement on Thursday about allegations, reported by CNN, that during a foreign trip in 2015 Jackson drunkenly banged on the hotel room door of a female employee and secret service personnel intervened out of concern he would wake President Barack Obama. The secret service said it had found “no information that would indicate the allegation is accurate”.