The Obama Administration, which has denounced and investigated a series of high-profile leaks, declined to comment today on the leaked State Department emails that cost them a high-profile diplomatic nominee Monday.
But the torpedoing of the Administration’s young, ambitious, and aggressive choice as Ambassador to Iraq, Brett McGurk, leaves behind a whodunnit with any number of suspects.
McGurk’s candidacy for the Baghdad post had faced increasing resistance after at times flirtatious emails between him and his current wife, Gina Chon, were published on Flickr on June 4, two days before his first round of hearings on the Hill.
The well-timed email leak, coupled with criticism from Senator John McCain over McGurk’s role in negotiating the end of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, had the effect of crippling his confirmation.
The State Department — which has been obsessed with tracking down leaks ever since Wikileaks began publishing some 250,000 State Department cables — declined multiple requests to comment on whether it was looking into the apparent security breach that cost the White House it’s next ambassador.
Peter Van Buren, a State Department whistleblower and author of the book We Meant Well, took credit for derailing McGurk’s candidacy on his blog today.
Van Buren posted an item with a picture of Stewie from the Family Guy with the words: “VICTORY IS MINE.”
“Brett, all joking aside, I feel for you man,” Van Buren wrote. “I know how it is to have State turn on you, push you out of a job and all that.”
Van Buren has become a major thorn in the side of the State Department.
After the publication of his book, the State Department launched multiple investigations into him, took away his security clearance, and is in the process of firing him.
The apparent mishandling of Van Buren’s case, and the resentment it has engendered, has come back to bite Foggy Bottom.
In retaliation, Van Buren has spent his days chronicling what the 23-year veteran now views as the hypocrisies of the State Department and other abuses.
Van Buren would eventually play a key role in blowing up McGurk’s candidacy.
In April, Van Buren originally posted an item that suggested McGurk received oral sex on the roof the Baghdad Embassy years earlier, and there was a video tape of it.
It was the first public airing of rumor that had been bouncing around in Baghdad circles for years.
The Van Buren item was reported on widely, though it appeared it wouldn’t impact McGurk’s chances.
On June 4, however, a series of emails dating back from 2008 appeared on the website Flickr, posted anonymously by a user named “DiploJoke.”
On June 5, Van Buren alerted a number of journalists to the emails that were posted on Flickr, while denying he’d put them there.
The Flickr emails were first picked up by the site Cryptome on June 5, then the Free Beacon, a conservative Washington website, on June 7.
Van Buren also posted about the emails.
A number of blogs picked up the Free Beacon story, and it was only a matter of days before the story lept into the pages of USA Today and the Washington Post, following public statements made by Senator James Inhofe raising concerns over the email.
Over the next 10 days, six Republican Senators would come out oppose the nomination, ignoring the advice of the three previous ambassadors to Iraq, including Ryan Crocker, who sources say made a number of calls on McGurk’s behalf.
Meanwhile, Van Buren continued to inveigh against McGurk and his wife, Gina Chon.
In one post, Van Buren listed eight reasons why he himself would be a suitable replacement to McGurk.
But Van Buren wasn’t McGurk’s only enemy.
McGurk was particularly hated by Ayad Allawi, a Sunni politician who told friends he wanted “to destroy McGurk,” according to sources familiar with the matter.
Allawi, who at one time was an asset of the CIA, believed McGurk thwarted his chance to be prime minister.
McGurk also faced the resistance of the notoriously bureaucratic State Department, whose foreign service corps felt threatened by the young and ambitious outsider, according to both former and current State Department officials.
U.S. and administration officials who had worked with McGurk in Iraq were displeased to see the nomination crater.
“Brett would make a good ambassador,” one U.S. official told BuzzFeed before the news of his withdrawal broke. “I hope this doesn’t effect the confirmation.”
Another U.S. official who supported McGurk said it was “bullshit” to see the personal allegations unravel the nomination of an individual who would have had more experience in the country than any previous ambassador.
A third official said: “We want to have an ambassador who has close relationships with the leaders of Iraq. McGurk has that with Maliki. That’s not a bad thing.”
The personal toll — the controversy cost his wife, veteran war correspondent Gina Chon, her position at the Wall Street Journal — and the wariness of Democrats to get in a protracted fight over a Republican in the end led to his decision to withdraw nomination.