Senior White House Counsel Steps Down
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And Im Michele Norris.
Senior White House counsel Greg Craig announced today that he will leave his post at the end of the year. Normally, the departure of the White House counsel would not be particularly interesting beyond the Beltway, but because Craig was involved in formulating policy about the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, his departure has been the subject of speculation for months.
Joining me to talk about this announcement is NPR's Nina Totenberg. Nina, there have been constant leaks in the last few months about an imminent Craig departure, which he and the White House have consistently denied, so what happened?
NINA TOTENBERG: Well, I talked to Greg Craig this morning and he said that when he took this job he only promised the president a year and that in September they started talking about him leaving by January.
NORRIS: Greg Craig was also the target of lots of criticism over the Guantanamo Bay policy. So, this larger question: Was he pushed or is he leaving on his own?
TOTENBERG: Well, it's probably a bit of both. Lots of folks say he took an unfair hit for the GITMO policy - that everyone understood that the administration would not make the one-year deadline. But that if they didnt set a deadline, they'd never close the place. And his defenders note that it isnt the White House counsel's job to do the politics.
Now, his critics say that he took on the responsibility of the Guantanamo policy, sort of elbowed out of the way other folks at Justice and in the national security apparatus, and that when the policy backfired on Capitol Hill, they had to pick up the pieces.
NORRIS: I just want to reach back and talk about these leaks that have gone on for months. Why was so much of this information leaking out so early?
TOTENBERG: Well, when I talked to Craig today, he apologized to me for telling me over and over again that he was not going anywhere. And he said that if the world had known he was leaving, he wouldve had no influence. So, it appears that other people decided to ensure that he did leave and there were these leaks mainly when the president, interestingly, was out of town. Even today, the story of the resignation was leaked to The Washington Post before Craig had actually written any resignation letter.
NORRIS: What should we read into that?
TOTENBERG: Well, you know, Greg Craig has a very close personal relationship with the president and he played a critical role early in the primaries. He'd been a top State department official in the Clinton administration and then pretty much savaged Mrs. Clinton in a memo that was posted on the Obama Web site. So he obviously wasnt going to play a foreign policy role when she's the secretary of State.
Instead, he takes on this job as counsel to the president. And there doesnt seem to be much doubt that these leaks came at least indirectly from Rahm Emanuel. What is the cause of the friction? It's very hard to say. Was it Rahm not wanting to have another power center? Was it their personalities? Was it Rahm seeing the GITMO stuff as a distraction from the president's agenda?
You know, these are very different animals. Rahm is someone who above all else, sees his job as winning. And Greg Craig has some very passionately held views on human rights and foreign policy and there was a conflict.
NORRIS: You know, there's something else thats interesting about this, because this death by constant leaking is a sort of thing that youve seen in other administrations, but it's really rather unusual in the Obama camp.
TOTENBERG: Well, and the president, or candidate Obama, really was furious and very assiduously made sure this didnt happen during the campaign. But it has happened in the administration and this sort of death by humiliating leak has been noticed on Capitol Hill. And I would say that folks there are not particularly pleased about it. And inside the White House there is said to be quite a morale problem today, that people are very blue about this.
NORRIS: So, Greg Craig is now going back into private practice. What about his replacement?
TOTENBERG: His replacement is Bob Bauer, the president's counsel during the election. He's a top election lawyer. He knows all the players in D.C. He's probably been the lawyer for most Democratic members of Congress at one point or another.
People who know him well say he has a lot of the same qualities that Craig has: He's smart. He has the president's confidence. But he has something that Craig doesnt have, apparently. He's a very good manager and a tactician. And because he's worked on so many campaigns, he probably does have a close relationship with Rahm Emanuel. Indeed, his wife is Anita Dunn, who just stepped down as the White House communications director. So, he's got very sharp elbows, people say. He knows how to use them. He is, as one person put it, a foxhole kind of guy.
NORRIS: Thank you, Nina.
TOTENBERG: Thank you.
NORRIS: That's NPR's Nina Totenberg.
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