Iraqi ambassador nominee Brett McGurk’s affair with a reporter has come under much scrutiny of late.
But the relationship between McGurk and then-Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon was positively under-the-radar back in 2009, when McGurk invited his then-mistress (now wife) to be a guest lecturer at a Harvard course he taught.
Harvard students attending the class had no idea that their teacher was romantically involved with Chon, who spoke to them about her experience reporting in Iraq, according to a student who attended. While she described the travails of being a correspondent in a war zone, she tactfully omitted any mention of sleeping with a source.
Chon and McGurk had begun their affair the year before, when she was stationed in Baghdad and he was working in Iraq for the National Security Council under then-President George W. Bush. They were both married to others at the time, though they had both filed for divorces; McGurk divorced his first wife in 2010 and has since married Chon.
Harvard’s Institute of Politics, for which McGurk was a visiting fellow, did not pay for Chon’s travel, a spokesman said, nor did officials know know that McGurk was engaged in an affair with Chon. It’s unclear whether that would have mattered to them, and the spokesman offered no comment on that.
The State Department did not immediately respond to the Loop.
Fellows in the program include former lawmakers, White House officials, journalists and other assorted Washington types. McGurk’s course, which the Institute calls a “study group” was titled “Highest Level (and Highest Stakes) Deliberations: An Insider Look at the U.S. Supreme Court and the National Security Council in Wartime.”
McGurk, the former student says, was generally considered a good teacher — and not just for his smarts. “He was very polished, very professional — and it was clear he was ambitious, too,” the former student says. “Plus, a lot of the girls thought he was cute.”
The McGurk-Chon affair has made headlines recently. It’s complicated McGurk’s path to Senate confirmation, and forced Chon to resign from the Journal this week. Editors said Chon didn’t disclose the affair to them, generally considered a no-no in journalism — editors will often reassign a reporter who develops a relationship with someone he or she covers to avoid conflicts or appearances of bias.
Racy e-mails between Chon and McGurk revealing their affair surfaced recently online, just as the Senate was considering McGurk’s nomination. In the exchange, posted anonymously, the couple jokes about McGurk providing Chon with information and access.
The outlook for McGurk’s nomination is cloudy: He’s scheduled for a vote next week in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but he’s drawn opposition from a half-dozen of the panel’s Republicans.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this report incorrectly stated that Harvard paid for Chon’s travel expenses, based on information provided by a Harvard spokesman. The university has since informed the Loop that it did not pay for Chon’s trip.