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Tester On Trump's Picks For Secretaries Of Veterans Affairs, State

Senator Jon Tester (D) - Montana
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Montana Senator Jon Tester.

Montana’s senior senator says politics played no role in the heightened investigation into President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Jon Tester is the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

"When we started this investigation into Admiral Jackson last week," says Tester, "we got some calls that were very concerning about him as a person."

Those allegations against Dr. Ronny Jackson include over-prescription of drugs, creation of a hostile work environment and drinking on the job. Tester says what started as a standard vetting of Jackson’s qualifications rapidly escalated into an ‘all hands-on deck’ operation in the wake of those accusations.

"It’s a difficult job because you need to assume there’s some innocence here from the get-go, but the bottom line is once we find enough people telling us the same thing then there becomes some ‘there’ there. But we’re not to that point yet," says Tester.

Jackson’s hearing had been set for Wednesday at the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee but was indefinitely postponed amid the allegations.

Trump appeared to give Jackson cover to not proceed with his nomination by saying, "I don’t think he should do it, but it’s entirely up to him."

Regarding another Trump pick, Tester says he isn’t happy that former CIA Director Mike Pompeo appears to be on a glide path to becoming the next Secretary of State.

"We have been at war for 17 years now. We have got our troops stressed to the max. We need folks who are willing to negotiate. When we have to use military force, we will and there’s no ifs, ands or buts about that, but it needs to be a last resort and I’m not sure it would be with Mike Pompeo," says Tester.

Tester’s reservations about Pompeo go back at least a year when the Kansas Republican served in the U.S House.

Tester, a Democrat, voted against Pompeo’s nomination to be CIA Director over privacy concerns.

Tester says Pompeo talks a good game about checks and balances and the importance of negotiation but adds that, "the statements he made to me in my office were not even close to the statements he made in the House of Representatives when he served over there, where he talked about war as an absolute first option. I’m going to tell you that if he didn’t say exactly those words they were absolutely implied."

Montana’s Republican Senator, Steve Daines, tweeted out his support for Pompeo last month saying "Mike Pompeo is a great choice for Secretary of State. I look forward to working with him."

Mike Pompeo is widely expected to be confirmed as Trump’s next Secretary of State, possibly as soon as Wednesday.

He would replace Rex Tillerson who was fired last month.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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