Obama pick for Iraq ambassador withdraws after racy emails

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

President Barack Obama's choice to be ambassador to Iraq has withdrawn from consideration for the post after a series of emails came to light detailing what critics called an improper relationship with a journalist during a previous tour in Baghdad.

Brett McGurk, who advised President George W. Bush on Iraq and helped negotiate the accord that paved the way for American troops to leave the war-torn country, pulled out just one day after senior Obama adviser David Plouffe pledged the White House's full support.

"No," Plouffe told CNN's "State of the Union" when asked whether the president would withdraw McGurk. "We've made this nomination, and we think he will ably serve as ambassador."

"We greatly appreciate Brett's years of service on behalf of the United States, to include tireless and effective leadership in Iraq from the height of the war to the moment our last troops left Iraq in December and through the challenging transition earlier this year," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement emailed to reporters.

[Related: WSJ reporter resigns over nominee affair]

"He served in two administrations, and his commitment to the national interest and to the mission was always clear. He has proven himself to be a skilled diplomat willing to take on some of the toughest challenges at the toughest times in a difficult region," Vietor said. "While we regret to see Brett withdraw his candidacy there is no doubt that he will be called on again to serve the country."McGurk's nomination had faced serious opposition in the Senate, where Republican John McCain charged he lacked the necessary experience to lead the huge American embassy in Baghdad and six of the party's nine members on the Foreign Relations Committee wrote Obama urging him to drop the nomination.

The lawmakers said McGurk lacked the experience to run the country's largest embassy and cited "the public release of information detailing unprofessional conduct" that they said "demonstrates poor judgment and will affect the nominee's credibility in the country where he has been nominated to serve."

McGurk and Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon carried on an extramarital affair while both were in Baghdad, according to media reports citing emails posted on the website www.cryptome.org. The two are now married. Chon resigned from the Wall Street Journal last week. The newspaper said she broke internal rules by showing McGurk "certain unpublished articles."