Jeb: George W. Bush is a top foreign policy adviser

Washington CNN  — 

Jeb Bush cited his brother, former President George W. Bush, as one of his main advisers on the Middle East in a private meeting in Manhattan on Tuesday, according to three people who attended the off-the-record event.

The comment came as a shock to some who were in the room because Jeb, a likely presidential contender, has taken pains to publicly distance himself from his brother and his controversial policies, particularly in that area of the world.

In a national security speech in February, Bush said, “I am my own man,” and he has insisted he would develop his own policies on foreign affairs if he decides to run for president.

Related: Jeb Bush distances himself from James Baker

His comments behind closed doors indicate a closer connection to his brother. After a previous dust-up about who was counseling him on world issues, Jeb was asked Tuesday about his foreign policy advisers. That’s when he listed his brother.

The Washington Post reported that Jeb cited his brother as an adviser on Israel, however, four sources confirmed to CNN that the comments were focused on foreign policy more broadly. Three of them said Jeb noted his brother was an adviser on the Middle East.

One of the people in the room jotted down Jeb’s comment as such: “What you need to know is that who I listen to when I need advice on the Middle East is George W. Bush.”

Bush spokesman Tim Miller said in a statement to CNN: “Gov. Bush deeply respects his brother’s service to this country and in response to a question about James Baker and Israel, he reiterated that he looks to his brother whose stalwart support for our ally is in line with his commitment to standing with Israel in the face of great threats to their security and our own.”

Two sources who the Bush staff put in touch with CNN said they understood Bush’s comments to be specifically regarding Israel.

“There were some eyebrows raised because people might not have realized it was in the context of Israel,” said one of these two sources. “I knew it was in respect to Israel.” ​

The other source provided a similar account, saying, “it was clear that Jeb was referring to Israel.”

Paul Singer, the founder of the hedge fund Elliott Management, hosted the event Tuesday, but it was not a fundraiser for Bush. The roughly 50-person crowd tended to be foreign policy-oriented and included prominent Republican donors, former ambassadors, and members of the conservative media. CNN granted sources anonymity because it was an off-the-record event.

Jeb’s comments were well received by some in the room, but they could prove damaging to a wider audience. Many of George W. Bush’s policies, particularly the war in Iraq, are still unpopular with large swaths of Americans.

In a September 2013 CNN/ ORC poll, 62% of Americans said sending troops to Iraq was a mistake. But the conversation about Iraq has changed in recent years as the U.S. has re-engaged there to help the government deal with the rise of ISIS, the terror network that has its base in portions of Iraq and Syria.