In the first major shake-up in the Obama White House, counsel Greg Craig is out, the White House announced on Friday. His replacement as the president's top lawyer is Bob Bauer, the husband of departing White House communications chief Anita Dunn.
Craig's departure has long been expected, in part because of the difficulty the Obama administration is having meeting its pledge to close the Guantanamo prison by next January, a project managed by Craig (pictured with the president). In a statement issued while President Obama is in Japan, Obama said he was "indebted" to Craig for his service and will continue "to call on him for advice in the years ahead."
The Craig resignation comes on the same day the Justice Department announced that the U.S. will send five of the accused masterminds of the Sept. 11 attacks -- now held at Guantanamo -- to New York to stand trial in federal court.
Attorney General Eric Holder, at a Friday morning press conference to announce the trials, described Craig as a friend who has taken on an "unfair proportion of blame" over the difficulty the Obama team is having in shutting down Guantanamo. He said critics of Craig have been "simply unfair."
A senior White House adviser told Politics Daily that Craig's first choice for a White House job was a position at the State Department, in line with his foreign policy background. "He agreed to be White House counsel because the president trusts him and said that's where he needed him. He would have preferred something at State but this is what the president asked him to do."
The source suggested that Craig never planned to stay long term as White House counsel, and that he agreed to get the office running and stay on for the first year.
"The Gitmo rap is totally wrong -- we wouldn't have gotten as far as we are towards closing it without Greg, and everyone in the administration recognizes that."
Still, when the Obama first year anniversary passes, one of his major campaign pledges will not have been kept. Said Holder on Friday, "I'm not sure we are going to be able to complete that process by Jan. 22."
Craig was one of Obama's earliest backers, and the endorsement of a figure in the Washington political establishment -- who worked in the Clinton White House -- was a powerful assist to Obama's campaign. (Craig was former President Bill Clinton's top lawyer during his impeachment.) A member of the Obama inner circle, he played the role of John McCain during debate preparations.
His resignation letter, dated today, said he will resign as of Jan. 3 and return to his private law practice.
Bauer, currently a partner at the law firm of Perkins Coie, will start work at the White House by the end of the year.
Craig was among those tapped in Obama's first wave of early appointments after he won the election last year. He was paid $172,200 a year.
In his letter, Craig cited his work in helping "identify and appoint" Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as Obama's first high court nominee as a high point.
Bauer's entry is a logical choice. He was an attorney for Obama's presidential campaign and is a longtime adviser. This development also sheds light on Dunn's decision, made public last week, to leave a White House position she had described as interim.
Politics Daily has learned that Dunn will remain with the White House as a part-time consultant for what was described as a "short term" arrangement, given all the challenges facing the administration. She will not have an office but will be paid; she is expected to complete her transition by the end of the year.
Here is the text of the White House announcement:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 13, 2009
White House Counsel Greg Craig to Return to Private Practice
Bob Bauer to Serve as White House Counsel
The White House today announced today that White House Counsel Greg Craig will return to private practice and Bob Bauer will serve as White House Counsel.
"Greg Craig is a close friend and trusted advisor who tackled many tough challenges as White House Counsel," said President Obama. "Because of Greg's leadership, we have confirmed the first Latina justice on the Supreme Court, set the toughest ethics standards for any administration in history, and ensured that we are keeping the nation secure in a manner that is consistent with our laws and our values. I'm indebted to Greg not only for leading the Counsel's office but for his many decades of service to this country as well. He has been a huge asset in the White House, and he will be missed. I will continue to call on him for advice in the years ahead."
Bauer is currently a partner at Perkins Coie. He will begin serving as White House Counsel by the end of this year.
"Bob has served as a trusted counselor for many years to many elected officials and is known as a tough and widely respected advocate," said President Obama. "Bob is well-positioned to lead the Counsel's office as it addresses a wide variety of responsibilities, including managing the large amount of litigation the administration inherited, identifying judicial nominees for the federal courts, and assuring that White House officials continue to be held to the highest legal and ethical standards."