Obama taps new counsel

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 14, 2009

By selecting Bob Bauer to be his new White House counsel, President Obama on Friday tapped a tough political warrior with deep partisan ties to serve as his official legal adviser on some of the country's most highly charged and difficult issues.

The decision to replace Gregory B. Craig with Bauer was a jolt to some who said his background -- as a streetwise election law attorney representing Democratic candidates for decades -- is hardly preparation for the complex domestic and international legal questions that will cross his desk.

Republican operatives reacted swiftly, issuing a statement that called him a "Hyper-Partisan Election Attorney" and noting his participation in what they called liberal legal disputes over the years.

"Bauer has [a] reputation for pushing the bounds of campaign finance law, contradictory to Obama's articulated principles," the statement from the Republican National Committee said.

And one former Republican counsel said Bauer will need to rely on his close relationship with Obama because his legal background has not prepared him for challenges that he will face.

"I don't think you would find many with that background. That kind of expertise doesn't help you very much," the former counsel said, speaking on the condition of anonymity so he could be blunt about a senior White House aide. "You've got campaign lawyers to deal with the campaign laws."

But the choice was hailed by several people who have held the position under other presidents, who said Bauer commands deep respect among the legal community and shares a personal bond with his boss in the Oval Office.

"What Bauer has, and this is the key to why it's probably a good choice, is that Bauer clearly has a relationship with Obama," said Bernard Nussbaum, who served as Bill Clinton's first counsel. "They've clearly gone through some important times together."

Abner Mikva, who also served as Clinton's counsel, predicted that Bauer will quickly join the small inner circle of Obama advisers that include David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Mikva said: "It's not often that you get a lot of people to be able to have that same intimate connection with the president."

As the president's private attorney since the time he served in the U.S. Senate, Bauer is no stranger to Obama's world. White House officials stressed that Bauer has a broad legal background that "by no means" has been limited to campaign-related matters.

In a statement released while he was in Japan for an eight-day overseas trip, Obama called Bauer a "trusted counselor" and said he is "well-positioned to lead the Counsel's office as it addresses a wide variety of responsibilities."

A partner at the Perkins Coie law firm in Washington, Bauer has built its political law practice into perhaps the most powerful in the country. A 1976 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, he is also general counsel to the Democratic National Committee and his firm represents the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

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