Obama taps new counsel
REPUBLICANS CRITICIZE PICK Bauer also president's personal attorney

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.).

Because of his longtime work with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Bauer has close relationships with nearly every senior Democrat on Capitol Hill, many of whom hailed the choice yesterday.

Former Sen. Tom Daschle (D), who has been a client of Bauer's for two decades, said Bauer has "worked and lived in this city for a long time and probably played about every role that there is."

Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), who served as DCCC chair in the 2002 election cycle, said she prized Bauer for his honesty. "If you asked him a question you got a straight answer," she said.

Many Republicans, too, praised his legal acumen. Ben Ginsberg, a top Republican lawyer who is an equally fierce advocate for the GOP on election law, expressed relief that his frequent adversary was getting a new job.

"I agreed with him more on issues before he fell under the spell of Obama, but he is an excellent lawyer, a great guy and they are most fortunate to have him," Ginsberg said. "Frankly, I am glad he will be leaving the 'partisan' arena."

Bauer became general counsel of Obama's presidential campaign in its early days. In March 2008, he briefly gained notoriety by calling in, uninvited, to a Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign conference call and testily arguing with Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson. When he begins Jan. 1, Bauer will take over an office of 19 White House lawyers.

His predecessor, Craig, was described yesterday as a brilliant lawyer who was challenged by the administrative aspects of his job. Associates said he was not comfortable delegating work, and did not always do well communicating sensitive legal decisions to other federal agencies or to Congress.

Craig's resignation comes one week after one of his top lieutenants, deputy White House counsel Cassandra Q. Butts, was named a senior adviser to the new chief executive of Millennium Challenge, an international aid agency.

Staff writers Juliet Eilperin, Ellen Nakashima, Ben Pershing, Michael A. Fletcher and Lois Romano contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company