White House counsel poised to give up post

By Anne E. Kornblut and Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 13, 2009

TOKYO -- White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig is expected to announce his departure as early as Friday, people familiar with the situation said, ending an embattled tenure in which he struggled to lead the closure of the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Craig will be replaced by Bob Bauer, a prominent Democratic lawyer who is Obama's personal attorney.

The departure comes after months of dissatisfaction over Craig's management of Guantanamo policy and other matters and less than a month after officials said Craig was no longer guiding the effort to close the prison. His departure represents the highest-level White House shake-up to date.

White House officials declined to confirm the expected announcement but have said for many weeks that they thought Craig would leave and be succeeded by Bauer. The timing appears likely to coincide with announcements related to Guantanamo, in particular a pending decision by the Justice Department over the legal fate of some key detainees and whether Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, will be transferred to federal court for prosecution.

Craig did not return a phone call placed to his house Thursday night. Anita B. Dunn, the outgoing White House communications director and the wife of Bauer, declined comment.

Two sources close to the people involved said the announcement was expected Friday, as President Obama begins his week-long tour of Asia.

Craig, a respected lawyer whose storied career includes representing President Bill Clinton during his Senate impeachment trial, became one of the earliest Clinton allies to support the Obama campaign during the 2008 race. At the height of the campaign, he penned a memo sharply criticizing then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's foreign policy credentials, a reflection of how passionately he cared about international relations.

It was not clear Thursday what Craig would do next. Earlier, White House officials said they expected him to receive a judicial appointment or diplomatic posting.

Craig had once hoped for a post in the Obama administration conducting foreign policy. But when that job did not materialize, and Obama asked Craig to serve as counsel, he felt he could not refuse, people close to him said.

He intended to use the perch to smooth some initiatives he cared most about, including reversing the Bush-era detainee policies. Indeed, he took the job of closing the prison facility so seriously that when Bermuda agreed to take several detainees from Guantanamo, Craig personally flew with them to the island.

But just a few months in office left Craig disenchanted with the political process and some senior White House officials frustrated with the operations of the counsel's office. Some critics pointed to mistakes along the way, including the administration's failure to anticipate congressional opposition to closing the detention facility.

White House officials have conceded they will not make the January closure deadline that Craig helped Obama settle on and are at a loss as to where to house a number of hard cases who cannot be transferred to foreign countries or tried in U.S. or military courts.

And there were other problems in his path. The vetting of nominees, a job typically overseen by the counsel's office, did not go well at first. Craig never quite penetrated the president's inner circle of advisers, despite his close personal relationship with Obama -- and his high-profile role in the Guantanamo struggle made him an easy target, according to defenders of his who said he should not have been held responsible for the politics of such a thorny issue.

His allies also note that he oversaw the successful confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and praised him for trying to keep Obama in synch with some of the ideologically liberal ideas he promoted in the campaign.

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