Saturday, Jun 09, 2012
(From THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)
By Naftali Bendavid
WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans are raising concerns about emails apparently exchanged between President Barack Obama's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq and a Wall Street Journal reporter who was covering Iraq while he was assigned there.
The emails, which were sent between June and December 2008 and recently posted anonymously on Flickr and other websites, suggest that the nominee, Brett McGurk, who served as an adviser to several ambassadors and as a member of the National Security Council, and correspondent Gina Chon were romantically involved. Republicans say this raises questions about the nominee's maturity and judgment, particularly regarding whether inappropriate access was offered to the reporter.
Mr. McGurk, 39 years old, and Ms. Chon, 36, are now married.
The State Department is standing by Mr. McGurk, saying he is highly qualified and was carefully vetted. But Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has canceled a scheduled meeting with Mr. McGurk.
The nominee couldn't be reached for comment.
"In regards to this nominee, Sen. Inhofe has heard some concerning issues, and until those issues are cleared up, he will not meet with Mr. McGurk," said Inhofe spokesman Jared Young.
Mr. McGurk was the lead U.S. negotiator on agreements with the Iraqi government in 2007 and 2008 that set conditions for a U.S. troop withdrawal. The emails consist partly of banter between a reporter and a potential source, and the exchange is flirtatious. Mr. McGurk married Caroline Wong in 2006, and reports have suggested he was still married when the emails were sent, but that couldn't be confirmed.
A spokeswoman for Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Mr. Kerry had no comment. That committee leads the confirmation process.
An aide said Republicans have been discussing the matter, exploring whether Mr. McGurk was inappropriately discussing access to officials or information with Ms. Chon even as the two were embarking on a romantic relationship. Mr. McGurk has never headed an embassy, and some Republicans said the emails underline questions about his suitability to lead what is now the largest U.S. embassy.
For now, senators are waiting to see what else unfolds -- whether any further revelations emerge, as well as how forcefully the administration continues to back Mr. McGurk, who also served under President George W. Bush. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the administration continues to support Mr. McGurk.
"He spent the better part of the last decade serving our country in and out of Iraq, working for a Republican administration, a Democratic administration," Ms. Nuland said. "He is, in our view, uniquely qualified to serve as our ambassador, and we urge the Senate to act quickly on his nomination."
Ms. Chon declined comment.
The Journal said in a statement that it is 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-fiance might be nominated as ambassador to Iraq," the statement said. "The request was granted at the time, and the leave is scheduled to begin later this summer."
(END) Dow Jones Newswires