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."
But fat cats should not despair. Obama added that it would be "disingenuous" to say he won't appoint non-career folks. So there's hope you'll still be able to buy a decent spot somewhere. But you might want to think small and brush up on your language skills. Pols and pals and contributors usually get only about 25 to 30 percent of the roughly 170 country ambassadorships, but they are always the plummest spots.The Foggy Bottom Crowd
Speaking of Clinton, she's filling out the ranks of the top assistant secretaries -- look for Richard R. Verma, former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and now a member of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, to get the nod for assistant secretary for legislative affairs -- but it's unclear where her top Senate aides will end up. That includes chief of staff Cheryl Mills, foreign policy adviser Andrew Shapiro, spokesman Philippe Reines, traveling chief of staff Huma Abedin and senior adviser Lona Valmoro. While the exact jobs aren't certain, you'll probably see them pretty close to Madam Secretary's seventh-floor office.An April Reprieve
Speaking of ambassadorships, Obama's folks had told all the politicals to resign effective Jan. 20. Apparently with that in mind, the U.S. ambassador to Hungary, April H. Foley, who went out with the current president when both were at Harvard Business School, had scheduled a farewell reception for Wednesday.
Then, according to a Jan. 9 cancellation notice obtained by the Cable, a Foreign Policy magazine blog, the president-elect's transition team is extending her tenure until April 7. It's possible this move came after a personal request from Bush when he met with Obama on Jan. 7, the blog suggests.Keeping Up . . .
Fred Hochberg, deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration in the Clinton administration, looks to be in line to become head of the Export-Import Bank -- a job that April Foley had before she went to Budapest.
Hochberg, who is openly gay and the heir to the Lillian Vernon catalogue business, is a mega-donor to the Dems.
It's looking as if Julius Genachowski, a longtime Obama pal from Harvard Law School days, is the pick to be running the Federal Communications Commission. Genachowski was talked about for the post of chief technology officer, but the FCC may be more to his liking.
Baltimore health commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, formerly an aide to Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), is said to be the leading contender to run the Food and Drug Administration. He has advocated stronger FDA oversight on the safety and effectiveness of cough and cold medications for kids.
Whit Peters, former secretary of the Air Force in the Clinton administration and now a lawyer here, is talked about for general counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
On the Hill, David Krone, a cable and technology entrepreneur, top official at Comcast and formerly executive director of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, has just come on board to be a senior adviser and handle political outreach, messaging and policy for Reid. Not a moment to soon, given how things have been going lately for Reid.Moving Out . . .
Charles E. Allen, chief intelligence officer for the Department of Homeland Security since 2005 and a highly decorated CIA veteran, is leaving Jan. 20 after 50 years of government service, officials said.
Allen, 72, earned the CIA's highest commendations over 47 years at the agency and received DHS's top award in December 2007 for helping put on firmer ground the department's nascent domestic intelligence operation.
Senior CIA officials typically return for a three-month debriefing process, but Allen has not announced his plans, reports Congressional Quarterly blogger Jeff Stein.With Philip Rucker