After Months of Denials, Greg Craig Out As White House Counsel

Nov 13, 2009 7:44am

As has been rumored for months, White House counsel Greg Craig will announce his resignation today, effective at the end of the year, senior administration officials tell ABC News. Craig will be replaced by attorney Bob Bauer, who has served as President Obama's private attorney. Bauer will start work in December, so as to help create a seamless transition.

Senior administration sources confirmed last night what Craig was denying vehemently as recently as a few weeks ago.

“I have no plans to leave whatsoever,” Craig told the National Law Journal in October. "The rumors that I'm about to leave are false. The reports that I'm about to leave are wrong. I have no plans to leave."

Bauer, the husband of outgoing White House communications director Anita Dunn, was an aggressive campaign counsel for then-Sen. Obama, crashing a conference call held by the campaign of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, and dismissing complaints by Sen. John McCain's campaign counsel.  He is currently the chair of the Political Law Group of Perkins Coie LLP.

Craig originally headed up White House efforts to close the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay and was one of the driving forces recommending that President Obama sign the executive order in January ordering it shuttered within a year, a deadline that almost certainly will not be met. Inside and outside of the White House Craig has been criticized for this failure, and for not necessarily meshing well with other White House players.

Senior administration officials came to his defense today.

"There is a firm belief from the President on down that Greg is taking more blame than he deserves for Gitmo," a senior administration official told ABC News. "This was a decision made by the President and supported by many officials."

But fair or not, Craig "become the face of a very difficult and polarizing policy," the official said.

Craig also took heat for recommending that the President release Bush-era memos from the Justice Department's Office of Leal Counsel that sought to legally justify interrogation techniques widely considered torture. He was also part of the President's decision to release detainee photographs, which was followed by the decision to not release those same photographs.

"That could have been handled better by a lot of people, Greg included," said the official. "He had a tough tenure, he had a tough set of issues."

The official cast today's pending announcement in the context of Craig never really wanting to be White House counsel to begin with.

"Greg originally wanted a foreign policy job, but Hillary becoming Secretary of State complicated that," the official said, alluding to Secretary Clinton's feelings of betrayal after Craig, a former White House Special Counsel for Bill Clinton, endorsed Obama during the primaries and became one of his most ardent defenders and a pointed critic of his former boss's wife.

Craig wanted to stay in private practice, but "Obama pushed to be counsel," the official said. "It was a tough job for him and never was a job he wanted. And he got a barrage of s— for it."

"He does not leave with the ill will of the president," the official said.

The weird Washington kabuki began over the summer, when the Washington Post's Al Kamen reported that a "rumor has been circulating for several weeks inside and outside the administration that White House Counsel Gregory Craig is on his way out as the top lawyer in the West Wing."

"Sounds like typical Washington parlor games to me," deputy White House chief of staff Jim Messina emailed in response. "These rumors are wrong."

White House officials vociferously denied the story to ABC News and other outlets.

In August, the Wall Street Journal reported that "Obama administration officials are holding discussions that could result in White House counsel Gregory Craig leaving his post, following a rocky tenure, people familiar with the matter said."

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina said: "We've addressed these rumors before. They are nothing more than typical Washington parlor games. It's disappointing that while we are focused on reviving the economy and fighting two wars, others spend their time pointing fingers in an attempt to promote their own status."

In September, the Washington Post's Anne Kornblut and ProPublica's Dafna Linzer reported that three administration officials told them that they expected Craig to leave his current post in the near future.

On October 23, Fox News Channel's Major Garrett reported that Bauer "is emerging as the top candidate to replace Greg Craig as White House Counsel… Democrats close to the situation said Bauer is under serious consideration as Craig's replacement. Craig is expected to leave the White House by year's end – if not sooner."

Again, from the White House and Craig: denials.

Asked if Craig resigned today because the president is out of town, and thus his resignation may get less press attention, the senior administration official denied that was the case.

"This has been the date planned for a long time," the official said.

But wait — what about all those denials?

Oh, never mind.

– jpt

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