Greg Craig's New Mantra: The President Is Not Your Mascot

By Al Kamen
Monday, January 12, 2009

When big-time Washington lawyer Gregory B. Craig picked up the portfolio of White House counsel for President-elect Barack Obama, he rightly expected he'd be on the cutting edge of big issues involving the separation of powers or other lofty legal matters.

It may not have occurred to him that he'd also be charged with stopping the commercial exploitation of his client's image -- the Obama can openers, Obama chocolate chip cookies, Obama chocolate bars and the like now on sale just about everywhere. And Craig is also the keeper of the official presidential seal, making sure it doesn't get used on T-shirts or beer bottles contrary to White House policy or even federal law.

The counsel's office for many years has been obliged to complain to businesses about the use of the presidential or White House seals on mugs and such. There's even a federal criminal statute (18 USC 713) against improper use of the "likeness of the great seal of the United States," or those of the Senate and House. Violators can be fined or even hit with six months in the slammer. Similar federal laws protect Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, the 4-H Club emblem and even the Swiss Confederation coat of arms.

Maybe you've been making a killing recently selling "Obama-endorsed" change purses. But as of noon on Jan. 20, expect a letter from one of Craig's team. (The staff thinks it's scut work, but remember: A guy named John Roberts started this way in the Reagan administration, and he now runs the Supreme Court.)

Some Travel Required

Bush administration officials are working to the very last moment to complete even the most onerous assignments.

So last week, as cold weather and rain lingered in Washington, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt and indefatigable Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach hauled themselves off to Costa Rica to cut a ribbon on the main location of the FDA's Latin American regional office. (One to hold the ribbon, the other the scissors?)

Costa Rica, a memo Thursday from Deputy FDA Commissioner Murray M. Lumpkin tells us, "is the fifth new foreign FDA location." Leavitt and von Eschenbach opened Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai offices in November, and Deputy HHS Secretary Tevi D. Troy apparently drew the short straw, opening the Brussels office in December.

Lumpkin has great news for HHS Secretary-designate Thomas A. Daschle and the next FDA chief.

"Further foreign locations scheduled for official openings in 2009 include New Delhi, Mumbai, Mexico City, London, Parma [probably Italy, not Ohio] Amman, Tel Aviv, and a yet to be finalized city in South America," he wrote.

Very important to emphasize the importance of these offices, what with recent health and safety problems with imports. But it's unclear whether Daschle and the next FDA chief plan to double up on foreign travel (maybe just on the London-Parma swing?).

Patronage Isn't Quite Dead

You could hear the career diplomats around the world cheering Friday when Obama indicated he was going to favor folks from their ranks when picking ambassadors. A reporter asked if he planned to appoint "big donors" to ambassadorships.

"My general inclination is to have civil service [that would be the Foreign Service], wherever possible, serve in these posts," he said. "And we have outstanding public servants, and I've spoken with Secretary of State designee Hillary Clinton about the importance of rejuvenating the State Department. I want to recruit young people into the State Department to feel that this is a career track that they can be on for the long term. And so, you know, my expectation is that high-quality civil servants are going to be rewarded."

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