Racy emails lead Iraq ambassador pick to yank name

Gina Chon, Brett McGurk
Gina Chon, Brett McGurk

(CBS News) WASHINGTON -- President Obama is looking again for a new ambassador to Iraq.

His first choice has dropped out, a day before a Senate committee was to vote on the nomination.

Brett McGurk made the decision after racy four-year-old e-mails between him and a female reporter became public.

This is one of the nation's most pivotal diplomatic posts. And as recently as this weekend, the White House was still pushing McGurk for the job.

But he withdrew Monday, telling Secretary of State Hillary Clinton he'd become a distraction.

The embarrassing emails hit the web two weeks ago, just a day before his nomination hearing in the Senate.

The exchanges documented a budding romance between McGurk, who was married at the time, and Gina Chon, a Wall Street Journal reporter posted in Iraq.

The emails range from flirtatious teasing to discussion of sexual frustration.

In one, the two joked about giving Chon access to classified meetings.

"Can I hide in your briefcase and bring a sophisticated recording device?" asked Chon.

McGurk, who has served five U.S. ambassadors to Iraq, was already facing formal opposition from Senate Republicans who felt he botched sensitive security talks with the Iraqis, forcing the U.S. to withdraw all armed forces from the country last year.

The 39 year old also faced questions about whether he had the experience to head America's largest embassy, with a $4 billion budget and, reportedly, more than 16,000 personnel, in one of the world's most volatile regions.

But as recently as Sunday, the White House wouldn't budge.

"We've made this nomination, and we think he would ably serve as ambassador," senior adviser David Plouffe said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Chon, who is now married to McGurk, resigned from the Wall Street Journal last week.

And Monday, McGurk issued his own withdrawal letter, saying the "depiction of our relationship has been both surreal and devastating," and that it "is in the best interests of the country, and of our life together, to withdraw my nomination and serve in another capacity."

Of course, this means the administration needs to find a new nominee, and fast.

Whoever it is will have to deal with a deteriorating political situation in Iraq.

To date, the U.S. has spent $800 billion fighting in Iraq, and rebuilding.

To see the Nancy Cordes report, click on the video in the player above.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.