[This post has been corrected and updated. See notes below in brackets.]
Last night, Van Jones, an adviser to the Council on Environmental Quality, released a statement apologizing for some of his past remarks, and disavowing his signature on a 2004 petition raising questions about the Bush Administration’s involvement in allowing the September 11 attacks. “I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever,” Jones said in the statement.
[This morning, another document online surfaced, showing that two years before the petition, Van Jones had been on the organizing committee for a new biweekly newspaper opposing the Bush Administration's War on Terrorism. The document is listed online with the announcement of a protest march demanding a Congressional investigation into 9/11 and the Bush Administration's possible involvement. In my original posting on this topic, I conflated the two documents. "Van Jones had no involvement in the march," a person familiar with the matter tells me. The documents can be found separately online here and here.]
This morning White House press secretary Robert Gibbs took questions from reporters in his office, though he pointedly avoided addressing the 2002 web page, or stating that the president continued to have confidence in Jones service. A transcript of the exchange follows:
QUESTION: Van Jones. I know he has issued an apology for his proctological remarks, but apparently there is also video of him accusing white polluters of poisoning people of color communities. Does the president still have confidence in this guy?
GIBBS: He continues to work in the administration, and I would refer you to the statement that CEQ put out last night about this.
GIBBS: That’s the Council on Environmental Quality
QUESTION: Yeah, but Robert is that as far as you are going to go with this?
GIBBS: That is the statement that has been put out last night.
QUESTION: The stories on television have been pretty offensive.
GIBBS: And I think if you refer to the statement, he apologized.
Later in the press availability two reporters returned to the topic.
QUESTION: Van Jones. His name appears on a 2004 petition, demanding to know the truth about 9/11, whether or not the Bush Administration played a role in 9/11 so as to justify a war for oil. [NOTE: As stated above, the premise of this question is incorrect. Jones signed onto the biweekly tabloid, which did not espouse, in the announcement, any 9/11 revisionist theories.] He said in his statement yesterday that he doesn’t agree with that, and an administration source said he didn’t fully read it before he signed it, he agreed to have his name signed to it. Now it comes out today that in 2002 he was on an organizing committee for a 9/11 Truther march. Your administration has been very active in knocking down the so-called Birthers, the people who allege without any evidence, and despite all evidence to the contrary, that the president was not born in the United States. How can the administration tolerate somebody who subscribes to a different insane conspiracy theory, as a senior adviser?
GIBBS: Again, it is not something that the president agrees with, and again I would point you to the statement from CEQ.
QUESTION: How many past statements have to emerge before he no longer has the confidence of the president?
GIBBS: A good question for next time.
Up until recently, Van Jones, who is widely respected as an environmental activist, has been targeted by conservative pundits, who argue that his impolitic remarks, and the fact that he once identified as a “communist,” raises concerns about a secret agenda in the Obama White House, a suggestion that is unhinged, and not only because President Obama is in no way pursuing any policies that can be accurately characterized as “communist.” Jones, for his own part, no longer espouses “communism,” and his role, as an adviser to the CEQ, puts him at a far remove from major questions of economic policy.
But the fact that Jones appears to have espoused conspiracy theories about 9/11 seems to have changed the conversation, if only because the White House is now playing defense, declining to answer reporter questions. As it now stands, the White House does not have a ready answer for Jones’ past behavior, beyond the fact that he says he no longer agrees with those views. Heading into Labor Day weekend, White House spokesman Gibbs just does not want to talk about it.