Top White House advisers deflected questions Sunday about former “green jobs czar” Van Jones early Sunday, just hours after he submitted his resignation amid a growing furor over his previous statements and political associations.
Politicians had been calling for Mr. Jones to resign after it was revealed in recent days he signed a petition supporting 9/11 conspiracy theories and called Republicans a series of vulgar epithets in a widely circulated video of a speech he made shortly before joining the Obama White House.
The Jones resignation capped a series of political missteps by the Obama administration as Congress and the president prepare to tackle one of his top priorities: health care.
“What Van Jones decided was that the agenda of this president was bigger than any one individual. The president thanks Van Jones for his service in the first eight months,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
He said Mr. Jones “understood that he was going to get in the way” of the president’s agenda and opted not to do so.
Senior White House adviser David Axelrod said he did not believe the president knew about all of Mr. Jones’ previous associations and was unfamiliar with his remarks, which included calls for an investigation of whether the Bush administration had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks but let them happen in order to provide a pretext for war.
The abrupt resignation — in a controversy that grew to a head in less than a week — renewed questions about the Obama administration’s ability to vet top aides.
The White House has been beset by quiet resignations from top picks — including former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle — and the almost-departures of some of his most important lieutenants, including Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who failed to report taxes owed the government.
In a resignation letter released by the White House via e-mail without advance notice just after midnight Sunday on a holiday weekend, Mr. Jones said he was the victim of a smear campaign.
“On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me,” he wrote. “They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.”
Mr. Jones said that while he’s been getting encouragement from both political parties to “stay and fight,” he “cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past.”
“We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future,” he said, adding in the letter for Council on Environmental Quality Chairman Nancy Sutley that he has been honored to serve the president.
Ms. Sutley issued a short statement thanking Mr. Jones for his work and calling him a “strong voice for creating 21st century jobs that improve energy efficiency and utilize renewable resources.”
On Sunday, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean called the Jones resignation “a loss for the country.”
Mr. Jones “was brought down, and I think it’s too bad. Washington’s a tough place that way,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
“All of us campaigning for office have had people throw clipboards in front of our face and ask us to sign, and he learned the hard way you ought not to do that. But I don’t think he really thinks the government had anything to do with causing 9/11,” he said.