The resignation announcement Friday of Gregory Craig, chief counsel at the White House, points to the larger challenges the Obama administration faces in carrying out its terrorism policies, including the promised closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp.
In particular, Mr. Craig had faced criticism for his handling of the politics around Guantánamo, which included legislation by Congress that bars the administration from moving detainees to the United States. Detainees can now come to the US only for prosecution, which is why the Justice Department is allowed to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and several other prisoners in New York City.
Craig had also drafted the executive order banning torture and recommended the release of Justice Department memos describing “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Some analysts have called Craig a fall guy for the troubles the administration has had over terrorism issues, particularly the closure of Guantánamo, which is unlikely to take place by Jan. 22, 2010. On his first full day in office, President Obama signed an executive order requiring that all the prisoners be out within one year.
At a press conference Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder defended Craig.
“Greg is a friend of mine, and those who have tried to place on him, I think, unfair proportion of the blame as to why things have not proceeded perhaps as we have wanted with regard to Guantánamo – that’s simply unfair,” Mr. Holder said.
“Because of Greg’s leadership, we have confirmed the first Latina justice on the Supreme Court, set the toughest ethics standards for any administration in history, and ensured that we are keeping the nation secure in a manner that is consistent with our laws and our values,” the statement said.
Craig is, to date, the highest-level departure from the Obama White House. The position of communications director has turned into a bit of a revolving door at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, with Anita Dunn set to step down. She replaced Ellen Moran, who left in April to become chief of staff at the Commerce Department. Ms. Dunn went in agreeing to fill the post temporarily. She also happens to be incoming chief counsel Bauer’s wife.
All administrations experience churn in staffing, both because of the intense pressures of White House work and because, as in all workplaces, some hires just don’t work out.
Craig has a long history in Washington as a respected lawyer. He directed the legal team defending President Clinton during his impeachment trial, and had served as a foreign policy adviser to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Craig is reported to have preferred a foreign policy assignment within the Obama administration, after signing on with the Obama campaign early on, but when asked to serve as chief White House counsel, he agreed.
Craig’s resignation goes into effect on Jan. 3, 2010.
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