Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Greg Craig Is Hunkering Down in the Obama Administration

Greg Craig, White House Counsel for President Barack Obama, is under fire for mishandling the politics of the Guantanomo Bay detention-facility closing. He should be under fire for his cozy relationship with Karl Rove, his indirect connections to the George W. Bush administration, and his ties to organizations that are anything but progressive.

Either way, Craig tells the National Law Journal, he has no plans to resign. Writes reporter David Ingram:

"I have no plans to leave whatsoever," Craig said. "The rumors that I'm about to leave are false. The reports that I'm about to leave are wrong. I have no plans to leave."

Craig, a fixture of Washington's legal and political establishments for decades, has faced a drumbeat of news reports since August that he is on his way out as President Barack Obama's top in-house lawyer. His dismissal of those reports is his first public comment on the matter, though he repeatedly declined to elaborate. Later in the interview, he described his relationship with Obama as "excellent."

Ironically, Craig is under fire for a decision that he probably got right. Guantanomo should be closed, but the White House is feeling heat from the plan--not because it is wrong, but because it has generated political fallout:

One of Obama's first hires as president-elect, Craig, 64, arrived with a long and varied resume. He has held top positions on Capitol Hill and in the U.S. State Department, served as special impeachment counsel to President Bill Clinton, and represented high-profile clients such as Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the United Nations.

But for months, and especially the past two weeks, Craig has been fighting questions about whether he'll resign. Administration officials, quoted anonymously in news reports, second-guessed Craig's support of a one-year deadline to shutter Guantanamo. They accused him of causing a diplomatic rift while helping to transfer four detainees to Bermuda, and they described his role in the overall effort as diminished.

Progressives, the folks who put Obama in the White House, should be concerned about Craig on other fronts. As we have reported here at Legal Schnauzer, Craig has myriad ties to Republicans of the Bush/Rove variety.

Jill Simpson, an Alabama attorney and key whistleblower in the Don Siegelman case, has led the way in pointing out Craig's conflicts of interest. Simpson has experienced those conflicts firsthand. Before her testimony to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in October 2007, Simpson spoke at length with Craig about possibly retaining his legal services.

After hearing Simpson's full story, Craig backed out, claiming he had a conflict connected to U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL). Simpson later learned that Craig and Rove were personal friends, and Craig even had represented the former Bush adviser on a book deal. Simpson becamse suspicious that Craig took privileged information she gave him and fed it to Rove.

Simpson learned that Williams & Connolly, Craig's former firm, represents numerous figures from the Bush administration, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and George W. Bush himself. She also discovered that Craig had financial ties to a Republican-oriented government relations firm in Washington, D.C. As we reported here:

Greg Craig's most recent financial-disclosure form shows that he was paid by Ogilvy Government Relations, says Alabama attorney Jill Simpson. The firm had been known as the Federalist Group before changing its name in 2007 after Democrats took over the U.S. House of Representatives.

Simpson's revelations come on the heels of a report yesterday in the Wall Street Journal that Craig might soon step down from his role in the Obama White House.

Simpson has firsthand knowledge of Ogilvy/Federalist Group. She served as a Republican opposition researcher and participated in a conference call about GOP plans to coordinate a political prosecution of Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. Simpson testified under oath that Alabama Republican operatives, led by Business Council of Alabama CEO Bill Canary, had worked out the plan with Bush White House strategist Karl Rove.

Barack Obama has been an across-the-board improvement on his predecessor--which isn't saying much. But his administration, so far, has been a colossal failure on justice matters. And the blame for that should be placed at the feet of Greg Craig and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Craig might wind up being ousted because of the Guantanomo controversy--a matter he actually got right. Progressives should be much more concerned about the utter ineptitude he and Holder have shown on justice issues.

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