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Informal Obama adviser steps aside

From NBC's Andrea Mitchell
One of the Obama campaign's informal Middle East advisers, Robert Malley, confirms to NBC NEWS that he has resigned from any role in the campaign because critics have tried to make an issue of his meetings with Hamas. The Times of London called him about it this morning, and has posted a story online. As a result, he called Obama's campaign today and took himself out of any future role.

Malley's paid job is with the International Crisis Group, which, he says, requires him to meet with Hamas and others. Malley worked for six and a half years at the Clinton National Security Council under Tony Lake and Sandy Berger. Lake is now one of Obama's top foreign policy advisors.

Speaking to NBC NEWS, Malley said, "I decided based on the fact that this was becoming a distraction that it was best that I remove myself from any association with the campaign."

Malley added, "My job with the International Crisis Group is to meet with all sorts of savory and unsavory people and report on what they say. I've never denied whom I meet with; that's what I do."

Malley said he always informs the State Department in advance and briefs them afterward.

He said this morning he got a call from the London Times, asking about his meetings with Hamas. So he called the campaign and said he thought it best to take  himself out of what was a very informal relationship to begin with.

He added that people have been attacking him on the Web (here and here and here) for some time. (Huffington Post had an item on "Smearing Rob Malley." Another defense of him here. For more background, this Jewish Daily Forward piece.)

Malley added that he and Obama went to law school together, but he said he has not played any role in the campaign other than as a very informal advisor. But, he added, "once it hits the Times of London it becomes too much of a distraction, especially since the McCain campaign seems to want to make this an issue."

McCain has brought up on more than one occasion that a Hamas spokesman had complimentary things to say about Obama.