November 13th, 2009
09:36 AM ET
12 years ago

Top White House lawyer resigns

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="In the first major shakeup among President Barack Obama's senior staff, White House Counsel Greg Craig announced his resignation Friday."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - In the first major shakeup among President Barack Obama's senior staff, White House Counsel Greg Craig announced his resignation Friday.

The resignation will take effect on January 3, according to a letter sent by Craig to Obama.

Craig is being pushed out in favor of veteran Democratic lawyer Bob Bauer because of a dispute over plans to close the U.S. military prison in Cuba, CNN learned Thursday.

"I want to tell you how proud I am of all that your legal team has accomplished on your behalf," Craig wrote in the letter. "It has been a busy first year (for the administration), and I feel very lucky to have been part of it."

Earlier: 'I have no plans to leave,' Craig says

The move was announced while the president was in Japan at the start a four-nation tour of Asia.

Craig declined to comment and hung up when reached by CNN late Thursday evening.

Bauer is the husband of Anita Dunn, the outgoing White House communications director. Dunn, who recently led a so-called "war" on Fox News, announced earlier this week that she is leaving her White House post, a long-anticipated move that was not connected to the media battle.

Democratic officials said Craig was ousted because of frustration among senior White House aides over his handling of the plans to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. As the White House's top lawyer, Craig was pivotal in advising Obama to sign an executive order during his first week in office promising to shut the prison by the end of January 2010.

In a politically embarrassing move that has frustrated some of the president's liberal supporters, White House aides have since backed off that deadline, citing complex legal issues surrounding what to do with the approximately 200 terror suspects still detained at Guantanamo.

Some administration officials privately believe Craig should have better anticipated the pitfalls. However, his supporters believe he is being used as a scapegoat and note he was not the only top official who supported the ironclad executive order.

In his resignation letter, Craig highlighted his work developing "a legal framework that will deal with threats to our national security in such a way as to protect our nation from harm while remaining true to our most fundamental values."

One Democratic official acknowledged Craig's tenure had been a "little choppy," but downplayed the exit as part of the normal turnover in any administration after nearly one year in office.

Craig was one of the lawyers defending then-President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial. He became an early and active supporter of Obama in the Democratic presidential primaries, angering backers of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton. That is one of the reasons why allies of Craig are frustrated he is being replaced so early in the administration.

But Democratic sources said Craig never clicked with senior White House aides, and Bauer is a low-key, behind-the-scenes operator more in Obama's comfort zone.

Bauer was the chief attorney during the campaign, and will be leaving the law firm of Perkins Coie, a Seattle-based firm that has an office in Washington, D.C.

There has been speculation that administration officials have been trying to find a federal judgeship or ambassadorial post for Craig, but Craig said in his letter that he intends to return to private practice.

Craig previously worked at the Washington law firm of Williams & Connolly.

- CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report

Filed under: Greg Craig
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. JH

    to be replaced with another corrupt fool.

    November 13, 2009 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  2. Mark from Louisiana

    Craig probably realized how stupid it is to bring the gitmo terrorists to trial in our country and bailed out before he was tied up in it.

    November 13, 2009 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  3. southerncousin

    Must have been an honest lawyer that could not stomach working for these crooks anymore?

    November 13, 2009 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  4. Sian

    Convenient timing?

    November 13, 2009 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  5. Fed Up Democrat

    And the "real" story for his departure is? Answer: That the lawyer he's paid over $1.7m to hide his education records, passport, birth certificate is his replacement. And this replacement is also the husband of Anita Dunn who just resigned as the communications director. Nepotism, hypocrocy, Chicago politic tactics at it's finest.

    November 13, 2009 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  6. Sea.gem

    Scheduled while Obama is out of town...another whimp maneuver by the campaigner-in-chief...the child-king makes supid demands then looks for a wonder the polls have changed so drastically...if the media had properly vetted him instead of looking for a cool story the world would not be laughing at us as they do now!

    November 13, 2009 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  7. victim of republican greed

    I do not think this reaches the magnitude of Bush firing 8 US Attorneys, and, of course, Colin Powell.

    November 13, 2009 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  8. faithful democrat/jacksonville

    He waits until the President leaves for his trip to Japan and then he resigned. What's up with that....he couldn't face him man to man? But earlier he had no plans to leave. Oh well, I guess he did what he had too. Good wishes and hope all goes well.

    November 13, 2009 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  9. sifto77

    Re: the Pelosi endorsement–same thing she did to Hilary Clinton–backed the weaker male candidate–Heaven help us if people listen to her again. What is with this woman? Is she that afraid of female competition?

    November 13, 2009 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  10. Jamie

    These things happen all the time in Administrations. I applaud Obama for trying to close Gitmo as soon as possible, but to think that he was going to be able to go and open the gates himself was naive on liberals part. Obama isn't giving up on it though and that it was remains vital to closing this atrocity that should never have even started.

    November 13, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  11. SkiDoc

    Just one more indicator of the beginning of the end of the "O" debacle.

    November 13, 2009 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  12. Monster Zero

    Rats from a sinking ship!

    November 13, 2009 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  13. Rachel

    Denied for months and now it comes to pass. Things that make you go hmmm. So craig was it worth it to support President Obama over Hillary? Did ya like the job oh wait you wanted something in the foreign affairs area sort of like Bill Richardson wanted Secretary of State. Now turns out Obama is gonna give the white house lawyer job to the husband of the woman who stepping from communications director. Gee think of that Obama giving a job to one of his peeps. Maybe Craig and Bill richardson could have talk about what might of been had they showed a loyalty, instead of jumping on the bus of the next best thing only to get run over.


    November 13, 2009 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  14. Bedtime for Obonzo

    Mr. Craig's failure seems to have been believing the campaign trail koolaid about closing Gitmo ASAP. Live and learn.

    November 13, 2009 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  15. Bluebonnet

    "But Democratic sources said Craig never clicked with senior White House aides, and Bauer is a low-key, behind-the-scenes operator more in Obama's comfort zone" – wonder if its because he's the wrong color?

    November 13, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  16. Robin

    Another one bites the dust.

    November 13, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  17. sniffit

    I guess he realized what a mistake it was to be connected to this joke of an administration.

    November 13, 2009 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  18. chubby

    Rats are starting to leave a sinking ship.

    November 13, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  19. kkst2004

    nonsense story... lets talk about that liar Palin. She jumps on Oprah and they ask her about the CBS interview... Palin says that the knew it was a bad interview and she was told by McCain people that it was good. But, in her book, she says she was "threatened nd badgered" by CBS. Liar!

    Also, lets talk about Carrie Prejean. She speaks with Palin and now she gets on Larry King and starts threatening to walk out of an interview. Sounds like someone has been talking to Palin too much!

    November 13, 2009 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  20. Dave

    So basically a lawyer is telling Barry something he does not want to hear, such as 'gitmo is the BEST option for these guys and technically it is illegal to house them in the US and put them in civilian courts'
    and Barry says thanks, your fired. Now get me someone who will bow to my wishes.

    Wake up people.

    Vote out every single incumbant this coming election cycle and put in TRUE fiscal conservatives, regardless of party.

    November 13, 2009 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  21. Four and The Door

    Okay, so now who is the administration going to use as a scapegoat for the rest of the promises that were broken? Who's idea was that $1 trillion 'stimulus' bill to keep unemployment from going over 8%? Probably they could tie that together with the results from bailing out GM and Chrysler to 'save the American automabile manufacturing industry' and clean out a whole team of incompetent economic advisors.

    November 13, 2009 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  22. 30 Year Veteran

    He's not needed anyhow, but I'm sure he didn't fit with Obama's crowd.
    It has been near ten years now and I haven't seen one man tried that was a true terriost. Our government is a joke. First place for 911 to have happened in the first place someone had to have silenced our military radar and tracking system. I'm sure the President well knew these planes were off course and the military tracking them. A simple Patroit missle would have brought them down in seconds. i realize that would have been sacrificing a few hundred people compared to the thousands that fell that day. Somtimes hard decisions have to be made. For anyone to think that the military was not aware of these misguided planes then he is a fool.

    November 13, 2009 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  23. Jackie in Dallas

    Before the radical right get into the fray here, this is quite common about a year into an administration. People who were quite good for transitional work going from one administration to another, may or may not fit into the more normalized situation as the Administration progresses. It has little to do with politics - every Administration has had its fair share of this type of turnover.

    Please, can we keep the comments civil, at least?

    November 13, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  24. Paul from Phoenix

    The first scapegoat/casualty of the administration. If memory serves, Paul O'Neal was the first of the Bush Administration to leave.

    Of course it is Craig's fault Obama didn't keep one of his campaign promises. God forbid we hold Obama accountable for anything. In fact, I am sure it was Bush's fault.

    November 13, 2009 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  25. Gerry Hildreth

    Likely the only honest person in the White House and now he's gone...Too bad. I never liked his politics, but I now respect him more for sticking to his logical/legal conclusions.

    November 13, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
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