Two different story lines are emerging to explain the sudden announcement by Greg Craig that he is resigning his post as White House counsel. Robert Bauer, husband of departing White House communication director Anita Dunn, will replace him.
Craig has been at the center of the administration's effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a promise that President Obama pledged to carry out within one year of taking office. That deadline is certain to be missed. While the White House line is to portray the resignation as a preplanned and personal decision by Craig to move on from White House life, outsiders and closure advocates see the announcement as the culmination of an internal White House blame game as to who was responsible for the obstacles met in implementing the president's Guantanamo policy.
"He was always slated to leave at the end of the year," one White House official told The Cable, speaking on background basis. Craig developed a close personal relationship with Obama during the presidential campaign and wanted to stay on in some foreign policy capacity, the official said. "He was reluctant at first but agreed to take the job out of loyalty to the president with caveat that he would return to private practice at the end of the year," the official said.
But Guantanamo watchers and some lawmakers always saw Craig as the fall guy, blamed for missteps the administration made in communicating with Congress as the effort to close Guantanamo went forward.
Several lawmakers have complained that the administration simply failed to devote the political capital needed for the effort, in the face of stiff GOP opposition. Leading closure advocates such as Rep. James Moran, D-VA, often complained that they could not get proper communication from either the Defense Department or the Justice Department to help them make the case. The result was Democrats caving to Republican demands to bar the transfer of detainees off the base throughout most of the summer.
A series of articles in September, speculating that Craig was on the way out and attributed to anonymous administration sources, cemented the feeling that Craig was being pushed out by internal forces due to the delays in the Guantanamo progress.
"This has the fingerprints of Rahm Emanuel somewhere on it," one expert close to the issue said. The White House chief of staff, as the White House lead on liaising with Congress, should have been the one involved in managing the issue on the Hill, multiple observers contend.
"The failures by the administration to put political capital behind the closure of Guantanamo were being handed to him as his failure," the expert said.
Another Guantanamo expert close to the administration confirmed that Emmanuel was angry at Craig, both over the Guantanamo issue, but also because the decision to release memos related to interrogation practices led to a media firestorm that became a problem for the White House.
"Since about late spring Rahm has been very upset, a combination of Guantanamo and the torture memos, and he has been trying to push [Craig] out ever since then," the expert said.
Whether or not Emanuel was directly involved, the feeling among the Guantanamo watching community is that the job of White House counsel is not to manage legislative battles and Craig is being blamed unfairly.
"It's a real shame. This is the culmination of weeks of rumor and innuendo and he seems to be the fall guy on some level. In what world was the White House counsel supposed to be putting together the Congressional strategy on Guantanamo," said Sarah Mendelson, director of the human rights and security initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"We saw a lack of movement that following the signing of the executive orders on Guantanamo and surely responsibly falls beyond Greg Craig," she said.
Other experts pointed to the Obama's announcement on only the second day of his presidency that he would set a one year deadline for closing Guantanamo, which was also not Craig's call.
"People blame him because he shepherded the executive order, but the deadline really ought to be attributed to the heady early days of an administration when they hadn't figured out that this was actually really hard," said Benjamin Wittes, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Moran, speaking to The Cable, said that Craig had done his job drafting the executive order on banning torture and creating the language for Obama's promise to close Guantanamo. But he wasn't supported internally when the going got tough.
"Greg Craig shouldn't have taken the fall over this issue," said Moran. "He thought that people would understand why it was in our nation's interest to close Guantanamo. But when things started to unwind, Greg was left there holding the ball all by himself."
Craig didn't give any clues to his motives in his letter, which said he will step down on Jan. 3, 2010
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