Gina Chon, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was forced to resign after emails were leaked showing that she was romantically involved with a Bush Administration official while covering the war in Iraq, defended herself today in an email sent to friends and colleagues.
The email, obtained by Buzzfeed's Michael Hastings, defends her relationship with former National Security Council official Brett McGurk—who is now Barack Obama's nominee for ambassador to Iraq—and complains about "half-truths and outright lies" that have been told against them.
I've seen the ugliness in human beings in war zones and natural disasters but I've never seen it up close and personal in the comfort of the U.S. The venom of Washington politics makes Wall Street, which I covered for the last two years, look like a playground.
But underneath the half-truths and outright lies is a fairly simple tale of two people who met in Baghdad, fell in love, got engaged and later married. In the process we formed a strong connection with Iraq, a place where we lost many friends.
I'm not trying to absolve myself of responsibility. People were hurt along the way and for that, I am truly sorry. I made stupid mistakes four years ago in Iraq while working for the Wall Street Journal and for that, I'm also sorry. I had to leave my job at a news organization I love and for that, I am heartbroken.
I want you to know, though, that while I worked in Iraq for the paper, Brett never gave me sensitive or classified information nor did he trade his knowledge for my affection. We were both dedicated professionals too committed to our jobs and had too much respect for each other to do anything like that. And as individuals, it's simply not who we are or how we approach our work. Nor did he need to. He was authorized to speak on occasion on background with journalists and did so with me, the Washington Post, the New York Times and other news outlets.
Both Chon and McGurk were reportedly married at the time their relationship began. Chon "agreed to resign" from the Journal last week, according to a statement from the paper, after acknowledging that she had shared stories prior to publication with McGurk. The Journal insisted that it had found no evidence that Chon's relationship with McGurk had affected any of her reporting.
The only "lie" that Chon directly rebuts in the email is an unattributed claim that McGurk had tried to get her into a "high level meeting": "Brett talking about having 'pull' to get me in somewhere has been magically reincarnated as him taking me to a high level meeting. In reality, he was joking about his ability to take me to the embassy cafeteria, where the ice cream sundae bar was one of the few treats for non-embassy employees in Baghdad."
The emails make clear that Chon and McGurk discussed—apparently in earnest—attending a dinner with then-Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani in June 2008.
"Assuming you are not serious about Barzani dinner tonight," Chon wrote to McGurk. "Unless for some reason, you really want me to hide in your briefcase."
"On tonight, let me see what I can do," McGurk wrote back. "Though I learned this morning that it's just me and Ambo—so may be tough.... Of course I would not mention anything to him, btw; our conversations are top secret and deniable. Remember?"
"Yeah, I don't think Crocker would appreciate me hanging out with you guys and Barzani," Chon replied. "He'll start scratching the back of his head."
"No go on Barzani fest," McGurk wrote back. "I thought it was a big Kurdish gaggle, but it's only five of us—so you would indeed provoke serious head-scratching on Ryan's part."
[Screengrab of Chon via Buzzfeed]