An environmental adviser to US president Barack Obama has resigned amid controversy over his past inflammatory statements, the White House said today.
Van Jones, who specialised in environmentally-friendly “green jobs” with the White House Council on Environmental Quality was linked to efforts suggesting a government role in the 2001 terror attacks and derogatory comments about Republicans.
The resignation comes as Mr Obama is working to regain his footing in the contentious debate over his plan to bring comprehensive health care coverage to America, the only industrialised nation to lack such a programme.
Mr Jones issued an apology on Thursday for his past statements. When asked the next day whether Mr Obama still had confidence in him, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said only that Mr Jones “continues to work in the administration”.
The matter surfaced after news reports of a derogatory comment Mr Jones made in the past about Republicans, and separately, of his name appearing on a petition connected to the events surrounding the September 11 2001 terror attacks.
That 2004 petition had asked for congressional hearings and other investigations into whether top-level government officers had allowed the attacks to occur.
“On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me,” Mr Jones said in his resignation statement.
“They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.”
He said he had been “inundated with calls from across the political spectrum urging me to stay and fight”, but could not in good conscience ask his colleagues to spend time and energy defending or explaining his past.
Mr Jones flatly said in an earlier statement that he did not agree with the petition’s stand on the 9/11 attacks and that “it certainly does not reflect my views, now or ever”.
On his other comments he made before joining Mr Obama’s team, Mr Jones said, “If I have offended anyone with statements I made in the past, I apologise.”
But the apologies have done little to quiet Republican demands that he resign.
Nancy Sutley, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, said in a statement today that she accepted Mr Jones’ resignation and thanked him for his service.