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Nominee for ambassador to Iraq withdraws from consideration

From Ted Barrett. Kate Bolduan and Jessica Yellin, CNN
updated 7:36 AM EDT, Tue June 19, 2012
Brett McGurk came under fire for using his government account to exchange flirtatious e-mails with a Wall Street Journal reporter.
Brett McGurk came under fire for using his government account to exchange flirtatious e-mails with a Wall Street Journal reporter.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Some senators said Brett McGurk had used poor judgment
  • He used an official government e-mail account to exchange flirtatious notes with a reporter
  • The two subsequently married
  • It is not clear if the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would have approved McGurk

Washington (CNN) -- President Obama's embattled pick to be ambassador to Iraq withdrew his nomination Monday, a day before facing an uncertain vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Brett McGurk came under fire from Republicans and some Democrats for a variety of complaints; most notably for what senators said was poor judgment when he used an official government e-mail account to exchange flirtatious e-mails with a Wall Street Journal reporter while the two were stationed in Baghdad in 2008. The two were later married.

In his resignation letter, McGurk said his withdrawal "is in the best interests of the country" because "Iraq urgently needs an ambassador."

McGurk's wife: I've become 'collateral damage'

"The most difficult part of this process," McGurk said, "was watching my wife become a part of it. 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."

Concerns over nominee's flirty e-mails

McGurk said he made the decision to withdraw Saturday and, in dramatic language, revealed it came as he was visiting the section in Arlington National Cemetery "where so many heroes of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars now rest in peace."

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor issued a statement thanking McGurk for his years of service to the United States.

"He served two administrations, and his commitment to the national interest and to the mission was always clear," Vietor said. "He has proved himself to be a skilled diplomat willing to take on some of the toughest challenges at the toughest times in a difficult region. While we regret to see Brett withdraw his candidacy there is no doubt that he will be called on again to serve the country."

GOP senators oppose choice of nominee for Iraq envoy

It was not clear if the Foreign Relations Committee would have approved McGurk. The committee is made up of 10 Democrats and nine Republicans, and therefore, a single Democrat could have blocked McGurk's nomination if all Republicans voted against him.

At least two Democrats -- Ben Cardin of Maryland and Ben Casey of Pennsylvania -- said they had concerns about the nomination.

Six Republican members of the committee wrote the president last week urging him to withdraw McGurk's nomination because they said he lacked the management experience to run such a large embassy and because they say he "botched" negotiations over the Status of Forces agreement for post-war Iraq.

Of the controversial e-mails, the Republicans said: "The public release of information detailing unprofessional conduct demonstrates poor judgment and will affect the nominee's credibility in the country where he has been nominated to serve."

In the wake of the scandal, McGurk's wife, Gina Chon, resigned her position at the Wall Street Journal. In an e-mail to friends Friday, she said the e-mails she traded with McGurk "which were exposed just before Brett's confirmation hearing reflected flirtatious banter and nothing more."

"I feel like I have become collateral damage in this process," Chon wrote. "And, after witnessing all I have, I'm amazed that anyone would want to become a public official.

Nominee runs into opposition over racy e-mails

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