In a letter released just after midnight Saturday, Van Jones, President Obama's Special Advisor for Green Jobs at the Council on Environmental Quality resigned.
"On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me," Jones wrote. "They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide."
Jones said that he had "been inundated with calls – from across the political spectrum – urging me to "stay and fight. But I came here to fight for others, not for myself. I 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."
A best-selling author who has been heralded as an innovative thinker in the "green jobs" movement, Jones had come under fire from conservative media and lawmakers for past statements for which he apologized Thursday.
The tipping point for the White House appeared to be Jones' admission earlier this week that he had signed a petition in 2004 calling for congressional hearings and an investigation by the New York Attorney General into "evidence that suggests high-level government officials may have deliberately allowed the September 11th attacks to occur."
In a statement issued Thursday evening Jones said of "the petition that was circulated today, I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever."
An administration source said Jones says he did not carefully review the language in the petition before agreeing to add his name.
But after that admission, asked if Jones enjoyed the confidence of the president, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs would only say on Fridat that Jones "continues to work in this administration."
A former civil rights activist in the San Francisco area, Jones told the East Bay Express in 2005 that the acquittal of Rodney King's assailants in 1992 in that infamous police brutality case changed him significantly.
"I was a rowdy nationalist on April 28th, and then the verdicts came down on April 29th," he said. "By August, I was a communist."
Jones and other young activists in 1994 formed a group called Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, or STORM, rooted in Marxism and Leninsm. Two years later, Jones launched the Ella Baker Center, an Oakland, Calif., based "strategy and action center" which states that it tries to "promote positive alternatives to violence and incarceration."
It was many of the associations formed around this time that served as fodder for conservative critics. In a New Yorker profile of Jones from earlier this year, Jones described his modus operandi as “traditional activism, the politics of confrontation and outrage. I was proud to be hated by the city fathers on both sides of the Bay.”
Over time, Jones focused instead as environmental jobs as a way to lift struggling communities out of poverty, work for which he's been praised as an innovator. Former Vice President Gore told the New Yorker: “I love Van Jones. I love his work. I love his heart and his commitment and his intellect. I love his mission. He has wisely picked a part of this set of interwoven challenges that should have been addressed much more forcefully by me and others long ago.”
But even as Jones lowered his profile in his new position as President Obama's "Green Jobs Czar," critics questioned comments he'd made in his previous incarnation as an activist and advocate for poor and minority communities. What seemed to hurt Jones the most politically, however, was the discovery of his name on the 9/11 "Truther" petition, which suggested President Bush or those in his administration at the very least allowed 9/11 to happen so as to launch wars for oil.
Having expended much time and energy discrediting conservative conspiracy theorists alleging (despite all evidence) that the President was not born in the U.S., and the non-existent "death panels," White House officials found it difficult to justify a top adviser who had associated with similarly fringe sentiments from the Left.
Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., chairman of the House Republican Conference, said on Friday that given "recent revelations concerning the associations and statements of the president's green jobs czar, Van Jones should resign his position and if he is unwilling to do so, the president should demand his resignation. His extremist views and coarse rhetoric have no place in this Administration or the public debate."
Republicans made it clear that they intended to use Jones as Exhibit A in a political prosecution that the Obama Administration has too many "czars" — unconfirmed by the Senate, with too much power.
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., ranking Republican on the Green Jobs and the New Economy Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, called for a hearing probing Jones' fitness for the job.
Jones, Bond said, "is responsible for directing administration policy and spending on tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer funding regarding environmental policy and green jobs programs. However, since the White House appointed him as a 'czar,' Mr. Jones was able to avoid any oversight or confirmation by the U.S. Senate."
Bond said he was alarmed by Jones' name on the 9/11 "Truther" petition. "Jones in hindsight is embarrassed by the public disclosure of his participation in the petition drive and now asserts he did not read the fine print of the petition," the senator said. "But can the American people trust a senior White House official that is so cavalier in his association with such radical and repugnant sentiments?”