Sources on Capitol Hill praised the White House for “finally waking up” to the fact that former National Security Council member Brett McGurk was unfit to serve as the next ambassador to Iraq.
McGurk, who withdrew his name from consideration late Monday afternoon, was caught in a series of leaked emails engaging in an affair with a former Wall Street Journal reporter while the duo were stationed in Iraq and he was serving as a senior Bush administration official.
The emails raised questions about McGurk’s judgment and led to concerns that he could have been trading sensitive information for sexual favors.
“This nomination has been in free fall since the emails became public,” said one GOP aide close to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was considering McGurk’s nomination.
White House Press Secretary “Jay Carney’s insistence just a few days ago that the President stood behind the nominee looks pretty silly now and makes him look out of the loop,” added the source, who noted that even Democratic senators John Kerry (Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.) “were already backing away at that point.”
Given the rising chorus of dismay over ongoing national security leaks from within the Obama White House, “the last thing senators wanted to do was vote for an Iraq ambassador that joked about trading classified information for sexual favors,” said the aide. “The White House woke up to reality over the weekend, and they obviously pressured McGurk to step aside to end this embarrassment.”
Another GOP aide close to the foreign relations committee praised the White House for coming to its senses regarding McGurk.
"It is probably best the White House find a nominee that doesn't start the position with questionable credibility,” said the source. “As one of our most important embassies at a critical time for the country, we need someone with unimpeachable integrity and sound judgment at the table. The White House can do better."
McGurk explained his withdrawal in a letter addressed to Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“It is with a heavy heart that I write to withdraw my nomination to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq,” McGurk wrote, according to a copy of the statement obtained by the New York Times. “I am grateful for the continuing confidence that you have placed in me. But after much thought over the past week, and having discussed the issue with my wife, Gina, I believe it is in the best interests of the country, and of our life together, to withdraw my nomination and serve in another capacity.”
McGurk goes on to lament the involvement of Chon—who recently resigned from the Journal—in the growing scandal.
“The most difficult part of this process, however, was watching my wife become a part of it,” he wrote. “She is the most precious thing in the world to me, and the depiction of our relationship has been both surreal and devastating. We have also witnessed real sacrifice and suffering in Iraq and know that nothing should be allowed to distract from the pressing work that must be done to build a better future there.”
The leaked emails, which were first reported by the Free Beacon, reveal that McGurk and Chon engaged in a clandestine, months-long relationship in 2008. The missives are at times explicit, with McGurk referring on multiple occasions to his “blue balls.”
Chon was forced to resign from the Journal for violating the paper’s code of conduct.
“In 2008 Ms. Chon entered into a personal relationship with Mr. McGurk, which she failed to disclose to her editor,” a statement from the paper said. “At this time the Journal has found no evidence that her coverage was tainted by her relationship with Mr. McGurk.”
Chon later maintained in an email to friends that she was a victim of the ordeal.
“I’ve never felt so vulnerable, so targeted and so exposed as I have in the last two weeks,” Chon wrote. “I feel like I have become collateral damage in this process. And, after witnessing all I have, I’m amazed that anyone would want to become a public official.”
A spokesman for the National Security Council expressed confidence that McGurk would once again serve in the federal government.
“While we regret to see Brett withdraw his candidacy there is no doubt that he will be called on again to serve the country,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, in a statement to ABC’s Jake Tapper.