· A Jan. 30 A-section article on legal counsel in the Obama administration omitted Cassandra Butts from a list of new White House deputy counsels.
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Obama Stocks White House With Prominent Lawyers
"These are people with very strong résumés who are very, very strong lawyers, but I don't think of them in terms of their ideology or political beliefs," Balkin said, adding that Obama "is a very good lawyer, so he has an eye for talent."
Veterans of the White House counsel's office said the selections suggest that critical policies will be made at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and not from agencies with direct responsibility for them. The risk, one GOP lawyer said, is that there could be confusion and infighting over who is in charge, as strong-willed and experienced lawyers in the White House seek to control issues across the Cabinet.
Lawyers in both parties also warned Obama against allowing the White House counsel's office to become too large and influential, arguing that most important legal decisions should remain in the hands of Justice Department lawyers, many of whom are career employees.
The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel is responsible for rendering objective opinions on legal questions, but Bush was heavily criticized for allegedly compromising that role. That office will now be headed by Dawn Johnsen, a well-regarded Clinton administration lawyer who teaches law at Indiana University.
"It is important for there to be a good working relationship between OLC and the White House counsel, but OLC must retain the ability to take issue even with the judgments of the White House counsel when necessary," said Douglas Kmiec, a Pepperdine University law professor who backed Obama's presidential bid despite being a Republican. "Professor Johnsen's academic training hypothetically could be tested by the practical litigation skills of Greg Craig, and I assume both will be sensitive to that prospect."
Staff writer Carrie Johnson contributed to this report.