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White House Defends Ronny Jackson After Allegations Surfaced; Supreme Court Takes Up President Trump's Controversial Travel Ban; Sources: Jackson Drunkenly Banged On Hotel Door Of Female Employee; WH Source: VA Nominee Jackson Not Withdrawing For Now; Republicans Hold First Baseball Practice Since 2017 Attack. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 25, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:19] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. John Berman here.

It is a stunning basket of allegations against a man the president nominated to care for our nation's veterans. This morning new claims that the Secret Service had to get involved after Dr. Ronny Jackson got drunk while on an overseas trip with President Obama and loudly banged on the door of a female employee. This on top of the claims that he fostered a hostile workplace environment. This after reports that the doctor casually and perhaps inappropriately handed out prescription drugs.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I understand he had a nickname in the White House among some of the White House staff?

SEN. JON TESTER (D), VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Yes. And it was the candy man because he handed out prescription drugs like they were candy.


BERMAN: It really is important to note that right now these are just allegations, albeit from multiple sources, but it is not clear if they are true. What does appear clear is that this White House did not know about any of these allegations when the president announced Dr. Jackson's nomination on Twitter. It begs the question, is there really any vetting at all when picking people for the top posts in this administration?

This morning the president is standing by the nominee, we think. Abby Phillip at the White House for us.

Abby, it's interesting, the president sort of hung Dr. Jackson out to dry yesterday and then overnight unhung him out to dry if that's such a thing.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That seems like the way these things go in this White House. President Trump saying one thing publicly and then privately saying another, but there is no question that these new allegations against Ronny Jackson have caught the attention of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress who have effectively put his nomination on hold.

Now Jackson, a rear admiral in the Navy, has served both Republican and Democratic administrations and he's been promoted in his position, but there are some allegations being brought to Congress by whistleblowers who say that in one incident when he was on a foreign trip with former President Obama, he was knocking so loudly on a female employee's door that the Secret Service had to step in because it was so loud it might wake the president. And also there are some allegations that on foreign trips, he would hand out sleep aids to staffers and others traveling on these long haul flights.

Now as you just mentioned, these are just allegations, but after President Trump made those comments in a press conference yesterday morning, he and Ronny Jackson actually met in the Oval Office where they talked, according to our sources, and the president delivered a message to him saying essentially, stay and fight, and after that the White House then has now come out with a number of pieces of evidence that they say support Jackson's nomination.

They are standing by him for now and among those are some notes written by his former boss, his former presidents, sort of job recommendations in some ways and this one from former President Obama in 2014 where he said, "Ronny's positive impact cannot be overstated. He is a tremendous asset to the entire White House team. Already at a level of performance and responsibility that far exceeds his current rank, promote to rear admiral now."

Now it is not clear when Ronny Jackson's nomination is going to move forward. That committee hearing that was supposed to be today has been postponed indefinitely and for now, Jackson is not withdrawing, although that as always can change at any moment -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Abby Phillip for us at the White House. Keep us posted, Abby.

In just a few minutes, I'm going to speak to Senator Jon Tester, Democrat from Montana, the ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee. You heard him last night with Anderson Cooper laying out some of these allegations against Dr. Ronny Jackson. Even more have come to light since that interview. So we will talk to Senator Tester to see where things stand right now. Stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, joining me, CNN political analysts Amy Parnes and Rachel Bade.

Amy, I want to start with you here. It really has been striking the sheer volume and specificity of these allegations against Dr. Jackson. I really haven't seen anything quite like this come out of the blue about a Cabinet nominee. What do you make of it?

AMY PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I make a lot of it because it's not just coming from Democrats, it's coming from Republicans. Republicans for the last few weeks have been kind of scratching their heads wondering what's happening here, why would President Trump even go ahead and pick this guy. He wasn't vetted. They had a problem with that. A lot of people -- you know, one senator came to President Trump and said -- you know, was trying to convince him not to get rid of the former VA secretary. So I think you're seeing a lot of people kind of ruminate about this and it only continues to get worse since these allegations come out, I think.

BERMAN: And both parties clearly taking it seriously, they delayed the confirmation hearing indefinitely, which is something you don't see.

Rachel, the other part of this, which is hard to understand, it's hard to reconcile, the statements that come from the Obama White House itself.

[09:05:07] I've spoken to David Axelrod, Dan Pfeifer, over the last several months, who have only the best things to say about Dr. Jackson, and then there are the words from President Obama himself. Abby read one of the quotes out loud. Here's another. Ronny does a great job -- this is from President Obama.

"Ronny does a great job. General enthusiasm, poised under pressure, incredible work ethic and follow through. Ronny continues to inspire confidence with the care he provides me, my family and my team. Continue to promote ahead of peers." This is from President Obama, theoretically roughly at the same time that these whistleblowers are saying that Dr. Jackson was drunk, you know, casually prescribing prescription drugs and knocking on women's doors.

RACHEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, the tell-tale sign of a good boss is how he or she treats their underlings. Of course he's going to be treating the president of the United States, both Obama and President Trump, with the very best and top respect that he has and behaving very professionally around them, but look. If you're going to run the VA, this is an agency with more than 350,000 underlings and employees.

This is an agency that deals with the United States Military veterans, people who have served this country. This is a very tough job and just because you treat the president of the United States with respect and professionalism that anyone else would do, doesn't mean that you're going to be treating your underlings the same way.

And I think that's why Republicans and Democrats on the Hill are very concerned about this, apparently there are allegations, 20 military men and women coming forward to the committee and saying he created a very hostile work environment, they called him the candy man because he passed out prescription medications so liberally, and the whole thing about drinking on the job.

Think about this, if you were just a regular private practice doctor, your profession would be in jeopardy from these accusations let alone a person who is potentially to be the secretary of one of the most complex and important agencies in the United States government.

BERMAN: To be clear, Dr. Jackson has apparently told some Republican senators like Jerry Moran that these things are not true and he never misbehaved on the job. We will see, perhaps, if he gets to a confirmation hearing. And, Amy, just finally, one last point in this, this may be less of a

Dr. Jackson story than a White House story. It's a vetting issue right now.

PARNES: Right.

BERMAN: They should have known these stories one way or the other.

PARNES: Right. John Kelly, his chief-of-staff, has a problem with this. There are people inside the White House who are kind of concerned about why he wasn't vetted, why they had to get to this level where people are concerned about it. And so you have this kind of, you know, push-pull between the president and his top aides. And so it's another one of those inside the White House kind of, you know, infighting. That's what's happening right now.

BERMAN: You're also seeing -- go ahead, Rachel.

BADE: I was going to say, just to follow-up on that. We're hearing that it's gotten so bad at the White House that certain White House sources, administrative sources, have started leaking negative information on people that the president wants to be named to certain Cabinet posts including Jackson that there's actually a covert campaign to try to get this out in the media because the President Trump will not listen to these advisers and so they have to go public with these things they're sort of seeing.

BERMAN: Right.

BADE: And that's just incredible.

BERMAN: Keep your eye on this, keep your eye on Scott Pruitt the next few days.

I want to ask you about another member of the Cabinet, Mick Mulvaney, the head of OMB, the temporary head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was speaking to some banking officials and he said something that I think startled people. He says, quote, "We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress," he said. "If you're a lobbyist who never gave us money I didn't talk to you. If you're a lobbyist who gave us money I might talk to you."

Now he did also say that he would always speak to constituents one way or the other, whether they gave him money or not, but this ranking of if you're a lobbyist who gives me money, I may speak, that sort of feels like pay-to-play. If you're a lobbyist who pays you can play.

PARNES: Yes, I mean, as soon as he said that, I think a lot of people were thinking, you know, what is happening here? You're essentially saying lobbyists come first and, you know, this is part of Donald Trump wanted to drain the swamp and here's this guy kind of doing the opposite. So I think that's problematic for him and that's going to be a problem in the days to come.

BERMAN: He did say his constituents come first, then lobbyists who pay, then lobbyists who don't pay. But still the notion that paying gets you something more than it might not was fascinating.

Rachel, one other big political story overnight, and it's interesting because the president tweeted about it and said the media should be talking about it. I'm not quite so sure he's going to like how we do talk about it. There was this Arizona special election where the Republican candidate did eke out a victory. But the victory was by five points. Debbie Lesko won by about five points in a seat that was plus 21 in the last presidential race.

What are you hearing about Republican concerns about this result?

BADE: Yes, it might seem counterintuitive. Republicans won this special election but this is not cause for celebration for the GOP at all by any means. This, as you mentioned, is a district that Trump won by 21 points.

[09:10:05] It has been held in GOP hands for decades. I know the previous lawmaker who had to step down amid sexual harassment allegations back in his district. He was one of the most conservative members of the House.

The reality is that Republicans should have won this district by at least double digits, but again, this is another sign that a Democratic wave is coming and that districts around the country that Republicans considered strongholds could be in jeopardy. There are almost 150 districts that are less conservative than this one and this one, Republicans only won by five points. That is cause to be concerned.

BERMAN: And they fought for it and spent in it.

Amy Parnes, Rachel Bade, great to have you with us. Thank you very, very much.

All right. Big showdown at the Supreme Court today in just a few minutes. Arguments begin over the president's travel ban. Already crowds and protests outside the court.

Our Jessica Schneider is there. Jessica, what are you seeing?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, long lines of people waiting to get into this historic argument as well as protesters here. You know, the interest in this argument is so high that people, members of the public, they've been lined up out here since Sunday, hoping to get into the court for these arguments that will begin in an hour.

Of course the president's signature immigration plan will finally have its day in the nation's highest court. All nine justices will be hearing arguments over whether or not this third version of the travel ban, whether or not it violates federal immigration law, whether or not it violates the Constitution's establishment clause.

Now of course these arguments have been a long time in the making here. We are on the third version of this travel ban. The first version of course went into effect about a year and a half ago. It was very disruptive, very controversial, and then this past September the Trump administration after previous versions had been struck down in lower courts, they issued this third version of the travel ban.

Of course, earlier this year, the Supreme Court decided that this version of the travel ban could go into effect while those appeals were taking place in the lower courts and now the Supreme Court will hear the arguments on it. Of course, this third travel ban, the administration argued was tailored after a nationwide review of security procedures and vetting. This travel ban is currently in effect. It applies to seven different countries including Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Venezuela and North Korea.

So the challengers today, they'll get up before the justices and they'll say that the president has just taken these immigration measures too far, that it is not permitted under federal immigration law and of course they'll also bring up the president's own comments on the campaign trail, his anti-Muslim statements saying that he wanted to implement a Muslim ban. They'll also likely bring up the president's re-tweets back in November of anti-Muslim videos.

But the Department of Justice, the government lawyers here, they all along will say that this is well within the president's right to restrict travel, to make sure that this country is safe. In fact, just a few minutes ago, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement on this and Attorney General Sessions said, "President Trump has been steadfast in his commitment to the safety and security of all Americans. The Constitution and acts of Congress confirm the president's broad discretion and authority to protect the United States from all foreign and domestic threats."

So of course that will be the government's main argument here, John. In just under an hour, those attorneys will get up, the challengers will get up before the Supreme Court on what will be a monumental argument determining whether or not this travel ban is legal -- John.

BERMAN: And, Jessica, another major legal decision overnight. This had to do with the issue of DACA, another federal judge ruling against the administration. Explain.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. That's right. Another blow to the Trump administration when it comes to DACA. So this was yet another federal court judge who rules that DACA had to go into effect. We've heard from other federal court judges before who said you have to continue renewing these applications. This was a bit different. The federal court judge in this case said not only do you have to renew these applications you also have to accept new applications here.

The judge however in this case delayed this order for 90 days allowing the Trump administration to submit memos challenging his decision, but if this were to go into effect, the DACA program not only would have to accept the renewals but also have to accept these new applicants which again is a huge blow to the Trump administration that has talked about the fact that Congress has gone too far when it implemented DACA and has tried to shut this program down -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Jessica Schneider, outside the Supreme Court, thank you very much. Up next the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee who

heard from more than 20 current and former military employees about allegations against Dr. Ronny Jackson. Senator Jon Tester will join us shortly.

Plus after he called it insane, the president signals a possible breakthrough on the Iran deal so where does it stand now?

And Melania Trump gets her moment in the spotlight with the visit of the French leaders.


Stay with us.


BERMAN: All right. This morning, the White House vetting process under fire after allegations against the man you're looking at on the screen right there, Dr. Ronny Jackson, the president's personal physician, allegations that he casually handed out prescription drugs, that he was drunk on the job, that he fermented a hostile workplace environment.

One of the men going public with these allegations is Senator Jon Tester, Democrat from Montana, the ranking member on the Veterans Affairs Committee. Senator, thank you so much for being with us.

You were on with Anderson Cooper last night. You laid out many of these allegations that have come to light to your committee. One new one has come up since you were on last night, that is a charge by four sources, apparently, that Dr. Jackson was intoxicated on a foreign trip and was banging on the door of a female employee, that the Secret Service became concerned that it might wake the president. What can you tell us about this?

[09:20:05] SENATOR JON TESTER (D-MT), RANKING MEMBER, VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, I mean, it's one of the allegations that are out there. There are many and I think it goes to the point that, you know, as a member of the Senate where our job is to vet and confirm, we need to be able to do our job and we need to get to the bottom of these accusations to find out if they're true.

And so, they're very serious accusations, whether it's a prescription drug handing out like it was candy or whether its intoxication or toxic work environment. Look, this is the second biggest agency in the federal government, it's an important agency because it fulfills the promises that our military members get when they sign up for the military and in the end, we've got to get to the bottom of it because it's a very, very important position.

BERMAN: Can you confirm that you had heard the story that he was drunkenly banging on a woman's door?

TESTER: I did. Yes, we did. Yes, we've heard that story.

BERMAN: Have you confirmed that story?

TESTER: We've confirmed it with the people who told us and quite frankly, moving forward we just need to do more to find it out. I mean, the bottom line is there's over 20 people that have come forward. These are active military people, retired military people who actually put their jobs on the line if their name becomes public.

And so, we've got to take it seriously and we've got to get to the bottom of it and that's what's going to happen over the next few weeks.

BERMAN: So, you say, they're active military people, retired military people, are any willing at this point to come public and be named?

TESTER: I don't know that. I don't know that for sure, because the fact is that if Admiral Jackson does not get this job as VA secretary, I'm sure he will go back as White House head doctor, and they'll be working with him in that environment which probably would not bode well for the folks who came forward.

BERMAN: Your colleague, Senator Moran, says he has met with Dr. Jackson, who has denied ever being drunk on the job with this quote, Senator Moran says, "He does deny that he's done anything wrong in service to the country and particularly his time at the White House as a physician in the medical unit." Does that denial ring true to you?

TESTER: Well, look, I mean, I think that that's the very reason why we need to continue vetting Dr. Jackson and it hasn't stopped. There's an IG report from the Navy that has come out that I have not seen yet that we need to see in the Senate, there's accusations from folks and there's denials from him and from others, so we just need to find out what the facts are and move forward.

BERMAN: What are the things the White House has done overnight is put out past statements of praise for Dr. Jackson by President Obama, who by all accounts really did like Dr. Jackson. We have a number of them.

Let me read you the first that I have here. "Ronny's positive impact cannot be overstated. He's a tremendous asset to the entire White House team, already at a level of performance and responsibility that far exceeds his current rank. Promote to rear admiral now."

How do you reconcile the man that President Obama is talking about there with the man you apparently are hearing about from multiple sources in your committee?

TESTER: Well, the reports we have heard is he treated the people above him very, very well. He treated the people below him very, very poorly that's creating the toxic work environment. So, it's not surprising that the president, the president's chief-of-staff, people that surround the president would think he's doing a really good job, but once again, John, we just need to get to the bottom of it.

Look, I've got -- Ronny Jackson was in my office a couple weeks ago and nice guy. I've got nothing against him at all, but our job as senators is to make sure that when we confirm a person to a secretary position, a very important secretary position, that they don't have a bunch of baggage that comes with them.

We've got morale issues within the VA. There's changes that (inaudible) V.A. to serve our veterans better. Whoever is the VA secretary does not need a bunch of baggage that will prevent them from doing the job. That's why the Senate has to do their job.

BERMAN: If ultimately you do hold hearings on Dr. Jackson, is there any way you could see yourself voting to confirm?

TESTER: We need to get the facts before I can make that statement, to be honest with you. There are other issues about budgeting and overseeing a big department like the VA, but we need to get to the bottom of these first before I can address the others.

BERMAN: Is there any sign that the White House knew about any of these allegations that have come to like to your committee before Dr. Jackson was nominated?

TESTER: Not that I'm aware of, not that I'm aware of, but what's interesting is that about a week ago we started getting calls from folks and we followed up on those calls about Dr. Jackson, and, you know, it's early in the process.

The president puts the person out, so people have a chance to think about it for a while before they pick up the phone or drop us an e- mail, but the bottom line is, if these turn out to be true the vetting process is flogged.

BERMAN: Any evidence the White House it any vetting at all?

TESTER: I wouldn't know that. I really wouldn't. I know that we're vetting him and it's a bipartisan vetting.

[09:25:09] BERMAN: Is this partisan in any way because the president suggests and others have suggested, you know, whispering behind the scenes, this is just Democrats out to get one of the president's nominees, these 20 people that have come forward, are they a mixture of Democrats/Republicans? Do you have any idea what party they're in?

TESTER: We don't ask what party they're from. I mean, they come forward. All I know is that they've active military and retired military. I can tell you that the last thing I want is to have this nominee held up. The VA needs a leader. There's no doubt about that to move forward, to do the job that needs to be done.

I can also tell you that there's been 12 nominees that work within the VA that have come before our Veterans Affairs Committee, I supported every one of them. So, this isn't about politics. This is about making sure the person who runs the VA is the person that's right for the job.

BERMAN: Senator Jon Tester of Montana, you have your work cut out for you. Do you think they'll be a public hearing at this point? TESTER: Well, I think -- yes, high possibility they'll be a public hearing once we get to the bottom of this. That's on Chairman Isakson's desk. He can call the hearing when he wants, but I think that Johnny and I both realize that we need some time to find out what the facts are.

BERMAN: Jon Tester of Montana, thanks so much for being with us helping us try to understand what's going on here. It's not easy.

TESTER: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. A fascinating and welcomed sight outside Washington today, the Republican congressional baseball team at practice getting ready for the game. You'll remember it was one year ago that a gunman very nearly killed the House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, wounded three others at the practice of this team. They are back on the field today. Joe Johns is there -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Joe. It's rainy out here, obviously, not a typical or very good day for practice, but this was the first scheduled practice for the Republican baseball team and a very unusual atmosphere compared with last year.

Last year, of course, was the day when it all happened, when we had a shooter come out and gun three people down who were injured, the shooter taking down himself by U.S. capitol police who were present, only present because they were there guarding the House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who was the most seriously injured of the people on the field.

Now, it's all changed, of course. Security comes every time we're told when this baseball team gets to practice. Congressman Barry Loudermilk was here just a year ago. He was wearing the very same uniform he had on when the shooting occurred. Listen.


REPRESENTATIVE BARRY LOUDERMILK (R), GEORGIA: Most of the people that you see up here today would not be here today if it wasn't for the Capitol police, Alexandria police and even the EMTs, the first responders that were here and able to say Steve's life and Matt's life. So, we owe a debt of gratitude to the first responders that were here that day. Never forget them. That's why some of us are wearing the Capitol police hat, God bless you and let's play ball.


JOHNS: Play ball it is. This comes at a time of midterm elections. Several members of the starting Republican team are stepping down. They said they will not seek re-election. Last year this game raised a million dollars for charity. It's going to be held this year on the adversary of the shooting. John, back to you.

BERMAN: Hope it raises just as much. We're thinking about them out at the practice field. Thanks, Joe. All right. Very shortly the French president, Emmanuel Macron, will address a joint meeting of Congress. His U.S. visit has been filled with a lot of toasting and touching, but did he manage to sway the president on the Iran nuclear deal? Stay with us.