President-elect Barack Obama's likely pick for White House counsel is catching flak for representing, as a Washington lawyer, not only Bill Clinton, but also a former deposed South American leader accused of human rights violations, the man who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, and a Panamanian national accused of killing a U.S. serviceman.
Foreign policy experts, newspaper editors and conservatives have weighed in against Gregory Craig, both as a White House appointee and as a campaign adviser to Obama.
The conservative legal group Judicial Watch issued a statement Tuesday blasting Obama's likely pick of Craig, citing his work as lead impeachment counsel to former president Bill Clinton.
"Given his defense of Bill Clinton's lies and obstruction of justice, what sort of legal advice will Mr. Craig give to President Obama? Will it all depend on what the meaning of 'is' is?" said the group's president, Tom Fitton.
Craig has represented West Wing defendants from both parties. In 2006 he represented a policy adviser to president George W. Bush, Claude Allen, who was arrested for running a fraudulent-return racket on a Target store in suburban Maryland. In an agreement hammered out with prosecutors, Allen pled guilty to a single shoplifting count. Allen was sentenced to two years' supervised probation and a small fine.
Neither Craig nor the Obama campaign responded to requests for comment for this story.
Prof. Laurie Levenson, a former criminal prosecutor who now heads the Center for Ethical Advocacy at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said criticism of Craig based on his client list was "totally unfair."
"That's the role of defense lawyers in our society and under our Constitution," said Levenson. "It's not up to the lawyer to judge the client. . . it's up to the lawyer to give him the best defense he can."
Craig's Client List
In January, the Dallas Morning News called for Craig to leave the Obama campaign, where he served as a foreign affairs adviser, or drop a Panamanian client of his who stood accused of killing a U.S. servicemember.
Craig said and the Obama campaign confirmed that he has recused himself from advising the candidate on "anything and everything" relating to his Panamanian client.
In a news release to the press Monday following word of Craig's likely appointment, the Republican National Committee raised the "controversial" issue of Craig's work for John Hinckley Jr., the man who shot Reagan in 1981. Craig helped defend Hinckley against the charge of attempted murder. In 1982, a jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity, and he was committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital, where he currently resides.
In his current job as a lawyer with the white-shoe Williams & Connolly firm in Washington, D.C., Craig represents Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, a former Bolivian president who resigned and fled his country in 2003 after a clash between protesters and the Bolivian military in La Paz left dozens dead and hundreds wounded.
The Bolivian government has submitted an extradition request to the U.S. State Department, to put the former president on trial on charges stemming from the bloody incident. Lozada now reportedly lives in Chevy Chase, Md. Witnesses to the 2003 clash have said they saw troops fire indiscriminately into poor neighborhoods. Lozada has argued the protesters were armed and intended to overthrow his government.
Lawyers for the victims have argued that then-president Lozada controlled the military, and ordered troops out in response to the protesters, so he bears liability for their actions.
Craig helps defend Lozada in a separate civil suit filed against him in the United States by human rights groups on behalf of nine families who say their relatives were killed in the violence.
Craig has said he recused himself from advising Obama on Bolivian issues, or on any issue that might involve a current or former client.
"I hope he will stick to his word and won't interfere in any way with the extradition matter," said David Kane, a Latin American expert for the Catholic missionary organization Maryknoll. The New York-based organization operates health and education programs in Bolivia. Friends of the group's missionaries in Bolivia were killed or injured in the 2003 incident, Kane said.
At a March event at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Kane asked Craig about the Lozada case, and what advice he might give to a future President Obama regarding the new Bolivian government's wish to have him extradited to stand trial there, according to a video recording of the event.
Craig had prefaced his earlier presentation at the event, a panel discussion on U.S. policy on Latin America, by saying he was not speaking for the Obama campaign. In answering the audience member's question, Craig stated, "what happened in Bolivia, while tragic and by any measure sad. . . [was] a result of an armed effort to overthrow. . . a democratically elected government," and that the extradition request should not be honored.
In August, Craig said to ABC News that the questioner had not asked him about how he would advise Obama, and said he "recused myself from advising Senator Obama about anything and everything related to the Sanchez de Lozada case."
Generally, he said then, he would not advise Obama "about any matter that involves a client that I have represented in the past."
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt noted to ABC News in August that Craig was not a lobbyist seeking to influence politicians, but a lawyer who represented clients in court. "He has made clear that he will not advise Senator Obama on any matter that would relate to his clients."