An aide to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul who spent years working as a radio shock jock has resigned because of some of his past comments, including one that President Abraham Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth's heart was "in the right place."
Paul, a Kentucky Republican and potential presidential candidate in 2016, told reporters on Monday that Jack Hunter's departure from his staff was a mutual decision.
"I think that because of the views he had expressed before my employment, it became a distraction and it just wasn't going to work," Paul said.
Paul confirmed the departure after a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Louisville. In his speech, Paul spoke out against the U.S. arming Syrian rebels, saying the weapons might be turned against Christians living in Syria. Paul also criticized U.S. military aid to Egypt and Pakistan.
Hunter, known as the "Southern Avenger" while working in South Carolina radio from 1999 to 2012, was Paul's director of social media and helped him write the 2011 book "The Tea Party Goes to Washington." Paul has emerged as one of a handful of tea-party-backed Republicans eyeing possible 2016 presidential bids.
Washington Free Beacon, an online news site, had written a story earlier this month about the 39-year-old Hunter, who often wore a Confederate flag mask during public appearances and who once was chairman of the Charleston, S.C., chapter of the League of the South, a group that advocates for the formation of a Southern Republic.
Hunter said in a statement released by Paul's office after the issue first came to light that it was his job "to provoke and inflame" while working in radio.
"I abhor racism and I have never advocated anything other than equal protection under the law for all people," he said in that statement.
Paul said Hunter's past radio comments shouldn't undermine his efforts to broaden the GOP's appeal, including among black voters.
"I think everybody occasionally has people that work for them that sometimes have a background that damages what you're trying to do," he said. "And so we'll see, only time will tell. But I think people can judge me on who I am and what I'm trying to do, rather than trying to go after one of my employees and say, 'This is all about you.' Well, if it's about me, let's talk about the things I'm trying to do."
Paul noted that he has made three trips so far this year to predominantly black Louisville neighborhoods and plans more visits there.
"I plan on doing outreach for the Republican Party because we want to attract more African-American voters," Paul said. "But also I'm a senator who represents all of Kentucky. I want to make sure that they know that I'm trying to represent them, whether they voted for me or not."
It wasn't the first time that a Paul aide has stepped aside because of past issues.
In December 2009, during Paul's primary race for U.S. Senate, campaign spokesman Christopher Hightower stepped down abruptly after a Kentucky blog called Barefoot and Progressive showed racist images, including a lynching photo and epithet, that had been posted on Hightower's MySpace page.
Hightower, who had been with Paul's campaign since its outset, adamantly denied any connection to the images, and the campaign said he didn't post them. The black-and-white image of a person dangling from a tree had been posted on the site by a commentator identified as only "D."