Jon Huntsman isn't allowed to even discuss his potential 2012 presidential run until after April 30th, his last day as President Obama's ambassador to China. But that doesn't mean people aren't already politicking against him.
In a hint of what will no doubt be a major issue should Huntsman seek the GOP nomination, someone leaked handwritten letters the former Utah governor sent to Obama and former President Bill Clinton to the Daily Caller's Jonathan Strong in which he praised the Democratic leaders.
"You are a remarkable leader," Huntsman wrote to Obama in August 2009, underlining the world "remarkable" for emphasis. "It has been a great honor getting to know you."
In a separate letter that same month, Huntsman thanked Clinton for a "very thoughtful note" the former president had sent him and said he regretted that the two didn't have more time to talk about China before he was set to leave for Beijing.
"I have enormous regard for your experience, sense of history and brilliant analysis of world events," Huntsman wrote.
He also offered similar praise for the ex-president's wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying she's "won the hearts and minds" of the State Department bureaucracy, which was, he said, "no easy task."
"After seeing her in action, I can see why," Huntsman wrote. "She is well-read, hard-working, personable and has even more charisma than her husband! It's an honor to work with her."
Both letters were sent just days before Huntsman departed the Utah governor's office for his diplomatic post.
Such praise is bound not to sit well with Republicans primary voters who strongly disapprove of Obama's presidency. It offers a glimpse of the difficulty Huntsman might face in running against the man who used to be his boss.
But the larger question is who leaked the letters? The Daily Caller didn't identify its source, and a Huntsman advisor, who was not named, suggested to the paper that the White House had a hand in the letters release.
"Need further proof that the White House fears Jon Huntsman? I think not," a Huntsman source told the Caller.
Privately, Huntsman allies are more perplexed. Both letters were personal notes, which mean they were more likely deliberately leaked, as opposed to being obtained under Freedom of Information requests at The White House, which strongly protects presidential correspondence.
At the same time, seems odd the White House would be so public in leaking a private note from Huntsman to Obama to undermine the former GOP governor's 2012 chances--especially when Huntsman still works for the administration for another two weeks.
Meanwhile, the note to Clinton wouldn't have fallen under any formal disclosure rules at all, given he's no longer an official public figure. There's a chance a rival campaign or party might have obtained the correspondence by filing a public records request for Huntsman with the state of Utah, but the former governor's personal papers haven't been opened for public review.
Either way, Huntsman's written compliments of Obama coincide with the president's very public embrace of his soon-to-be-ex ambassador.
Asked about Huntsman's potential White House bid at a January press conference, Obama praised his top diplomat, adding that he's sure he'll be "very successful" in future endeavors. "I'm sure that him having worked so well for me will be a great asset in any Republican primary," he jokingly added.
(Photo of Obama and Huntsman: Charles Dharapak/AP)