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‘No red flags were raised’ in Ronny Jackson nomination vetting, White House says

Why didn’t accusations against Ronny Jackson come up when he was vetted for the role of veterans affairs secretary? White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short joins Amna Nawaz to discuss President Trump’s troubled Cabinet nominations, plus the ongoing military presence in Syria and the legal basis for the president to launch strikes.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    As President Trump hosted his French counterpart at the White House today, questions lingered about two troubled Cabinet nominations and the ongoing military presence in Syria.

    For all that, I'm joined by White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short.

    Thanks for being here.

  • Marc Short:

    Amna, thanks for having me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, let me ask you about what the president has said today.

    He suggested that Mr. Jackson potentially drop out from this nomination because of ugly allegations that have been coming up. Why didn't any of those allegations come up during the White House vetting of Mr. Jackson?

  • Marc Short:

    Well, a couple answers to your question there.

    One is, the president did say that he would certainly understand, but he also said that, I'm going to stand behind him. And I think that Dr. Jackson has every opportunity now to make sure that those accusations that have been raised are proven to be false.

    Dr. Jackson is a great story, small-town Texas kid, goes off to medical school, volunteers to serve our country and rises all the way up to admiral, has treated soldiers, men and women in combat. He's served multiple presidents, Republicans and Democrats. He's a great pick for this role.

    And we look forward to him having his day in front of the American people to make his case. On the vetting process, keep in mind, to become admiral and to work in the White House, there's plenty of background checks that happen all the time.

    And in this case, there is also an FBI background check. It happens before the nomination is sent forward. None of the accusations came forward on this. Additionally, there's also a financial element that goes through the Office of Government Ethics. It's not the White House job.

    It's the Office of Government Ethics that's set up to do financial deconflicting that happens before the nomination is forwarded. So, in all of that, there has been no red flags were raised. There's been a couple people that have come forward at the last minute who have raised some accusations to Senator Tester, who is the ranking member on Veterans Affairs.

    But we think that they are false, and we think that Admiral Jackson will do a great job.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So none of these allegations have come up in previous vetting, or any previous vetting you have relied on at the White House?

  • Marc Short:

    Did not.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Are you or is anyone else in the White House urging him to make a decision quickly, to move the process along?

  • Marc Short:

    Oh, I think that he's still looking forward to his opportunity.

    I think the question for the delay came from Senator Isakson and Senator Tester, who said that they wanted to have more opportunity to review late-arriving information. So, that's the reason for their delay.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And if there is any concern either from you or anyone else at the White House that the longer this decision-making process goes on, the VA, meanwhile, doesn't have a leader?

  • Marc Short:

    Well, we do have an acting secretary in Robert Wilkie. And he's somebody who has served in previous administrations, was working at the Pentagon before he moved him over. But, of course, we're anxious to get Dr. Jackson over there.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Can I ask you about another confirmation hearing that has been getting some headlines recently, this one for Gina Haspel that's coming up, the White House nominee for CIA director?

    Recently, more than 100 former military officials have come forward to protest her nomination. I'm wondering what your response is to that?

  • Marc Short:

    Gina Haspel is another great nominee.

    She served 33 years in the CIA, devoted career official. She's not a political appointee, a devoted career official who has been stationed in some of the most dangerous places across the globe.

    Her confirmation has been endorsed by multiple Democrat leaders of the CIA, including John Brennan, including others that served in Democrat administrations from Clinton to Obama. She's somebody who has an incredible record. We look forward to being able to tell her story.

    On May 9 is her hearing. More documents will be coming forward declassified that continue to show the exemplary leadership that she's had.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    At the same time, the basis of those protests from the former military officials was on her involvement in interrogation methods, right?

    And there have been some Republican senators who have actually expressed concern as well, Senator Collins among them. Senator McCain has said in a statement that the torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade is one of the darkest chapters in American history and said that Ms. Haspel needs to explain that in the confirmation process.

  • Marc Short:

    So, she wasn't a participant in any of the enhanced interrogations.

    But also I think of note is that what she did at that time was fully in compliance with the law. And that's been again supported by even Democrat officials who were in the Department of Justice or the CIA, who said everything she did was in compliance with the law.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It was in compliance with the law. And the defense so far, even in a declassified CIA memo, was that she was absolved of responsibility, that she was just following orders.

    I'm curious, though, because in confirmation hearings, it's not just about whether or not you follow the rules, right?

  • Marc Short:

    Right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's about your ethical character. It's about your moral compass.

    Does that open her up to questions about whether or not she would act unethically or illegally if asked to do so because she's following orders?

  • Marc Short:

    She is someone who has a great moral compass. Again, she's served 33 years selflessly in stations all across the globe.

    Unfortunately, what's happened today is that the nominations process is incredibly partisan. We just saw that in a committee vote for Director Pompeo, who we hope gets confirmed as secretary of state later this week.

    But throughout the process, Democrats would say, I know the State Department needs you. I know you have got great credentials and graduated number one in your class at West Point, graduating with honors from Harvard Law School, the job you have done at CIA, but I can't vote for you.

    And the rationale is that they're under so much pressure from the Bernie Sandinista crowd and from some of the more radical elements in their party that they're being held hostage. And, unfortunately, it's no longer showing courage in votes here. It's basically becoming entirely partisan.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But even with the Pompeo vote, it took President Trump intervening to get Senator Paul to change his vote as well.

    Is that what it's going to take moving forward, do you think?

  • Marc Short:

    So, keep in mind that, at that point, I guess there was 49 out of 50 Republicans who were supportive. And ultimately we now have 50 of Republicans supportive of Director Pompeo.

    So, I do think the politicization has been more on the left.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you now.

    There is something else related to the Haspel nomination, because part of that questioning about her involvement at the CIA in some of the destruction of tapes that involved interrogation, including water-boarding of al-Qaida suspects.

    I want to hearken back to something President Trump said on the campaign trail, when he floated the idea of bringing back water-boarding. Is that something that we might see from this White House in the future?

  • Marc Short:

    I think that this White House and Ms. Haspel will be complying with the law, not looking to change the law. And so I think that you will see us continue to abide by the law.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you now about the Syria strikes.

    Earlier this month, 88 members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump reminding him that, legally, he needs to seek their permission before launching U.S. military strikes. He didn't have that permission.

    So, what right now is the White House's legal basis for the strikes in Syria?

  • Marc Short:

    The War Powers Act, I think, provides the president the ability to make sure, in the national interest of the United States, he has the ability to conduct these strikes.

    And in this case, if you have rogue nations that are basically using chemical weapons in areas where we're fighting the war against ISIS, we think it's in America's interest to defend ourselves.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So if the president didn't get authorization from Congress before launching the strikes in Syria, does he still have authorization? Does he need authorization before launching strikes in, say, North Korea or Iran elsewhere?

  • Marc Short:

    It would certainly depend upon the circumstances.

    Again, the president has that ability. I think that's clear in the Constitution. But keep in mind that some of the same people that signed that letter you referenced were supportive of President Obama striking Libya.

    So they didn't ask that he come to Congress. So, I think, again, much of this is politicized.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short, thanks for your time.

  • Marc Short:

    Thanks for having me on.

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