Political confirmations are brutal.
The process of congressional review of a president’s nominee, though always a serious matter, has gotten progressively more bloody in the years since a Democratic-controlled Senate voted down President Ronald Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in 1987 after the judge was branded an extremist, and defense secretary nominee Senator John Tower was eviscerated as a drunk by his colleagues in 1989. In 1991, Clarence Thomas’s nomination by President George Bush weathered a scathing examination of sexual harassment allegations.
The most recent example of no-holds-barred confirmation tactics comes in the form of a written record — which was, sadly, not covered in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearings last week — for President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Iraq, Brett McGurk.
The billets-doux appear to be a set of racy e-mails from 2008 between McGurk and former Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon written when McGurk was working in Iraq for the National Security Council under then-President George W. Bush and, awkwardly, married to someone else. The Post’s Emily Heil has this report.
McGurk, a former Supreme Court clerk for Justice Rehnquist and Council on Foreign Relations fellow, forwarded an e-mail archive of their first flirty e-mails to his beloved which chronicles their falling in love. To be clear, they were not “dating” ... he was married ... but the correspondence confirms that they “fell in love at first sight,” anyway.
I am guessing the primary sources documentation came into the hands of whomever anonymously posted them on Flickr.com via the vetting for this appointment. (It was probably not an approved leak, though President Obama has been getting accused of that lately).
Since their disclosure, both McGurk and Chon have been publicly silent about the e-mail content. (She had been on temporary leave from the WSJ pending her husband’s appointment, but after the e-mails came out her separation became permanent.)
Having read some of the correspondence in an excerpt in the Above the Law blog, I have to say it presents unusual but material evidence of McGurk’s qualification to work with the reconstruction team and the Iraqi government. His sequencing choices notwithstanding, the written correspondence indicates the nominee possesses confidence, sincerity and a lovely sense of humor (a quality I suspect he’s needing to call on in great quantities as this painfully personal matter gets sorted out in public ... ).
Even if the existence of such intimate communication doesn’t exactly acquit him on discretion, their content demonstrates the kind of people skills well suited to an ambassador.
On whether is it fair to use what is so clearly not related to his qualifications to upend McGurk’s confirmation, I’d have to say yes. In politics, all’s fair in love, war and confirmation battles. Stand by to see if, of the three, love conquers all.
Bonnie Goldstein is a writer in Washington. Follow her on Twitter at @KickedByAnAngel.