Baghdad Booty Call

Leaked emails of embattled Iraq ambassador nominee raise questions over reporter’s access, coverage

BY:

Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon’s repeated use of anonymous, high-level sources in her dispatches from Iraq has raised further concerns that her sexual relationship with former National Security Council member Brett McGurk—now President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Iraq—won her unprecedented insider access.

Chon and McGurk appear to have engaged in a clandestine, months-long relationship in 2008 as the latter led high-level security negotiations with the Iraqis, according to a set of recently unearthed email exchanges between the couple, who are now married.

Chon frequently relied on a singular American source in her reports about the U.S.-Iraqi security negotiations, leaving open the possibility that McGurk traded sensitive information for sexual favors. The untoward reporter-source relationship only adds to the growing controversy over McGurk’s nomination.

“This is one of the most important embassies for the U.S. at this time, and we need all adults at the table,” said a Republican aide close the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is currently considering McGurk’s nomination. “It speaks to a clear lack of judgment if he was the source.”

Chon’s dispatches from June through August of 2008—the time that her relationship with McGurk seems to have blossomed—show she was in close contact with “a senior U.S. official” who was knowledgeable about the inner workings of the U.S.-Iraqi talks.

Because the source is quoted anonymously, it is impossible to determine if Chon relied on the same source in each article.

However, given the topic of the articles, it is likely she relied on someone who was around the bargaining table.

The senior U.S. official appears in one of Chon’s dispatches on June 13, 2008, just a week before she appears to have started exchanging flirtatious emails with McGurk following a dinner party.

As the months go on, the source appears to reveal increasingly specific information about the sensitive security deliberations, Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki’s political future, and the Iraqi elections—all issues included in McGurk’s portfolio.

In the report from June 13, Chon quotes a “U.S. official in Bagdad” bolstering Maliki’s reputation. McGurk came under criticism from senators during his nomination hearing last week for being too close to the Iraqi ruling regime.

“Now he [Maliki] has shown he can make sound decisions and has become more formidable, which has made his rivals more cautious,” Chon quotes the source as saying.

Around a week later, McGurk and Chon decided to “get together on a more casual basis,” according to the leaked emails.

On June 16, 2008, Chon reported on the U.S.-Iraq security treaty and quoted “a senior U.S. official” on the matter.

“Another senior U.S. official said Mr. Maliki’s comments were ‘a hard one for us to read’ and could represent posturing for domestic consumption,” Chon wrote. “This U.S. official added that President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Maliki see eye-to-eye on what the agreement should contain and that the big differences exist between the negotiating teams that are more deeply involved in the minutiae.”

Just two days after Chon and McGurk appear to have consummated their relationship, the Journal published an article in which “a U.S. official in Baghdad” discusses the Iraqi elections with Chon.

A similarly placed source makes an appearance three days latter, in a June 28, 2008, article about efforts to curb corruption in the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office.

“U.S. officials tried to persuade the Iraqi government to cancel the directives [about how to handle corruption cases], but were unsuccessful, the U.S. official said,” Chon wrote.

Chon was also granted what appears to be a wide-ranging interview with “a senior Bush administration official” as security negotiations between the Americans and Iraqis reached their most tense point.

“A senior Bush administration official, in an interview Tuesday, said Washington’s stance on embracing a time horizon for troop reductions was guided by how much Iraqi security has improved between now and when the two parties decided to hold talks on a security agreement last fall,” Chon wrote in an article published on July 31, 2008. “Since then, Iraqi security forces have been increasingly taking the lead in military operations, starting with a crackdown on rogue Shiite militias in Basra that began in late March. … ‘How we see Iraqi capacity and capabilities has changed,’ the administration official said. ‘And that led to a consensus on a time horizon.’”

Chon conducted a late-night interview in August with “one U.S. official” who agreed to discuss the details of a yet-to-be-announced agreement to withdraw American troops from Iraq.

“Senior officials in Washington said the talks have concluded. The deal will be presented to the Bush administration and the government of Iraqi Prime Minister [Nuri] al-Maliki for formal approval or rejection,” she wrote in an August 21, 2008, dispatch. “‘The talking is done,’ one U.S. official said late Wednesday night. ‘Now the decision makers choose whether to give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down.’”

The repeated use of an anonymous source that may have been McGurk is highly troubling, and the leaks could have negatively impacted the 2008 security negotiations, said the Republican aide.

“It certainly could have impacted the outcome for certain details to be made public while things were in process,” said the source.

“In light of these new developments, it is concerning,” the source said. “This creates concerns about the individual’s lack of judgment, and we think the White House could probably do better in its pick.”

A Wall Street Journal spokesperson declined to comment specifically on Chon’s reports, providing the Free Beacon the same statement it has given to several news outlets in recent days.

“We are looking into the matter. Ms. Chon, currently a reporter in Money & Investing, asked for a formal leave of absence from The Wall Street Journal in March when it appeared her then-fiancé might be nominated as ambassador to Iraq,” Journal spokesperson Ashley Huston said in a statement. “The request was granted at the time, and the leave is scheduled to begin later this summer.”

Adam Kredo   Email Adam | Full Bio | RSS
Adam Kredo is senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Formerly an award-winning political reporter for the Washington Jewish Week, where he frequently broke national news, Kredo’s work has been featured in outlets such as the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Politico, among others. He lives in Maryland with his comic books. His Twitter handle is @Kredo0. His email address is kredo@freebeacon.com.

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