An adviser for Democratic White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has attracted concern for a perceived conflict of interest arising from his work defending a deposed South American leader accused of human rights crimes.
Washington, D.C. lawyer Greg Craig advises Obama on foreign policy. At the same time, he 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 indicated it wants the former president, now reportedly living in Chevy Chase, Md., to be returned to face charges stemming from the incident, during which witnesses reported troops fired 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.
"There does seem to be a conflict of interest that should be looked at," 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.
Contacted Friday, Craig said 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, he would not advise Obama "About any matter that involves a client that I have represented in the past."
The Obama campaign confirmed those recusals. Spokesman Ben LaBolt noted Friday 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."
Craig's current and former clients have included several high-profile individuals, from attempted presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr. to President Bill Clinton. Lozada is not the first of Craig's clients about whom concerns about possible conflicts have been raised. In January, the Dallas Morning News called for Craig to leave the Obama campaign, or drop a Panamanian client who stood accused of killing a U.S. servicemember.
Craig said and the Obama campaign confirmed said he has recused himself from advising the candidate on "anything and everything" relating to his Panamanian client.