White House environmental adviser Van Jones, embroiled in a controversy over past inflammatory statements, resigned after what he called a “vicious smear campaign against me”.
The resignation, announced early today, came as President Barack Obama is working to regain his footing in the contentious health care debate.
Mr 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 September 11, 2001, attacks and to derogatory comments about Republicans.
Mr Obama did not endorse Mr Jones’ comments, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
“What Van Jones decided was that the agenda of this president was bigger than any one individual,” said Mr Gibbs. Mr Jones “understood he was going to get in the way” and becoming a liability to the administration, the spokesman said on ABC’s This Week.
Mr Jones issued an apology on Thursday for his past statements.
The matter surfaced after news reports of a derogatory comment Mr Jones made in the past about Republicans, and separately, of Mr Jones’s name appearing on a petition connected to the events surrounding the 2001 attacks.
That 2004 petition had asked for congressional hearings and other investigations into whether high-level government officials 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.”
Mr Jones said he had been “inundated with calls from across the political spectrum urging me to stay and fight”.
But he said he could 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 September 11 attacks and that “it certainly does not reflect my views, now or ever”.
As for 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.”
Despite his apologies, Republicans demanded Mr Jones quit.
Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck repeatedly denounced Mr Jones after a group the adviser co-founded, ColorofChange.org, led an advertising boycott against Beck’s show to protest his claim that Mr Obama is a racist.
James Rucker, the organisation’s executive director, has said Mr Jones had nothing to do with ColorofChange.org now and did not even know about the campaign before it started.
Mr Jones, well-known in the environmental movement, was a civil-rights activist in California before shifting his attention to environmental and energy issues. He is known for laying out a broad vision of a green economy. Conservatives have harshly criticised him for having left-wing political views.
Nancy Sutley, who heads the White House environmental council, said in a statement early today that Mr Jones “had been a strong voice for creating jobs that improve energy efficiency and utilise renewable resources.”