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White House says top lawyer to step down

The White House's top lawyer is resigning, the administration said Friday.
Image: White House Counsel Gregory Craig talks with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
White House counsel Gregory Craig, left, talks with Attorney General Eric Holder as they leave the White House on Aug. 24.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News and news services

The White House's top lawyer is resigning, the administration said Friday.

White House Counsel Greg Craig has been the subject of questions about his future since late summer, dogged by talk that President Barack Obama's promise to close the controversial Guantanamo Bay military prison by January went awry under Craig's leadership.

Craig also oversaw the president's revamping of U.S. policy on terrorism interrogations and detentions, including a ban on torture, and was at the center of administration moves to release many documents relating to the treatment of terror suspects under the Bush administration — and to oppose the release of photos of abuse of detainees overseas by U.S. personnel. All those decisions earned Obama considerable criticism, some from the right and some from the left.

"Greg Craig is a close friend and trusted advisor who tackled many tough challenges as White House Counsel," Obama said in the statement. The president said he was indebted to Craig and that he would "continue to call on him for advice in the years ahead."

Bob Bauer, who was general counsel on Obama's presidential campaign and a longtime adviser to Obama, has agreed to take Craig's place, according to a statement issued by the White House.

"Bob is well-positioned to lead the Counsel's office as it addresses a wide variety of responsibilities, including managing the large amount of litigation the administration inherited," Obama said in the same statement.

Bauer is married to outgoing White House Communication Director Anita Dunn. Among the reasons for Dunn's decision to leave was that, for family reasons, the couple didn't want both of them to be working for the administration at the same time.

Craig's planned resignation -- first reported by NBC News -- became public just as Obama landed in Tokyo for a weeklong tour of east Asia.

Highest-level departure
Craig is the highest-ranking departure so far in Obama's 10-month presidency. In the first sign of the coming shake-up, Craig's deputy, Cassandra Butts, was moved last week out of that job to be senior adviser at Millennium Challenge Corporation, an aid program for developing countries that was created under the Bush administration.

Craig is perhaps best known for his work in a previous White House, as former President Bill Clinton's chief defender during his 1998 Senate impeachment trial. Later, Craig became one of the earliest Clinton allies to sign on to Obama's presidential campaign, during the Democratic primaries against Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Craig has taken the blame for the White House's failure to predict and effectively manage the political dimension of closing Guantanamo, especially the extremely charged question of where to move the detainees now held in the Cuba-based prison.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers balked at the idea of transferring detainees into U.S. prisons and, under GOP pressure, Congress has banned the release of any detainee into the United States.

Democrats, however, have turned back Republican efforts to bar transfer of Guantanamo detainees into the country to face trial.

Painstaking process
The process of persuading other nations to take some Guantanamo detainees also has been painstakingly slow. The Obama administration also was taken aback at the amount of work required to put together formerly nonexistent evidence and intelligence files on each Guantanamo detainee.

As a result, the administration admitted some time ago that it will most likely not meet Obama's January deadline for closing the prison.

In recent weeks, however, the prison-closing process has begun to pick up some steam.

Last month, Obama signed a defense policy bill that brought back but revamped Bush-era military trials for terror suspects. The revised military commissions give new legal rights to accused terrorists.

Also, the administration is due to begin announcing by a self-imposed deadline of Monday which of the 220 remaining Guantanamo detainees are to be tried in federal courts and which by the overhauled military commission process.