Who’s Out to Shank Greg Craig?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009 at 9:36 am

The Wall Street Journal reports that White House Counsel Greg Craig’s job is in trouble. Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina tells the paper’s Evan Perez that speculation to that regard amounts to “typical Washington parlor games.” Then he says that it’s unfortunate that “others spend their time pointing fingers in an attempt to promote their own status.” So… the campaign to oust Craig is real! Who’s behind it?

I don’t know and the rest of this post is irresponsible speculation of the sort that Jim Messina would condemn. But look at the paper’s body of evidence for why Craig has enemies:

He mishandled the closure of Guantanamo Bay;

He argued for the unredacted release of the Office of Legal Counsel’s 2002 and 2005 legal justifications for the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation regime”;

He played some role in the administration’s plans for preventive detention (this is pretty much a vague and undeveloped point in the piece)

So whose ox is being gored here? Marcy Wheeler, no fan of Craig’s, notes that in these cases “he supported the right decisions on policies, but the political people in the White House mismanaged implementing those decisions.” Maybe. A complimentary explanation is that on the torture memos disclosures, Craig and Attorney General Eric Holder angered the leadership of the intelligence community:  Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and CIA Director Leon Panetta, CIA Deputy Director Steve Kappes and White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan. They might see their chance to build an anti-Craig constituency with a White House political team that wants a scapegoat for the Guantanamo failure. A caveat is that it’s doubtful to me that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel would be one of the people his deputy denounces on the record as “pointing fingers in an attempt to promote their own status.”

That said: the Guantanamo shutdown is a really unforced error. An anonymous Hill person is quoted in the piece as saying a virtue of Craig’s is that he “understands Congress very well.” Really? I’ve heard months of gripes from Hill staffers, particularly but not exclusively on the Democratic side, that the White House had cut Congress entirely out of the loop on Guantanamo. Democrats didn’t know what they were supposed to defend, and as a result weren’t inclined to defend much of anything. On top of that, as a matter of strategy, by not picking a specific state to send the Guantanamo detainees, every senator had an incentive to raise not-in-my-backyard concerns. Opposition predictably coalesced to the point where 90 senators in May voted to cut funding out of the war supplemental for closing the facility. What would misunderstanding Congress look like?

Finally, to quote Omar Little, you come at the king, you best not miss. Craig is closer to President Obama than either Blair or Panetta. Possibly not as close as Brennan. (And Brennan, by the way, is going to give his first big counterterrorism speech at CSIS on Thursday, Marc Ambinder reports.) I don’t know; I’m not a White House Kremlinologist. But now that this is in the media, whoever’s out to get Craig had better be assured of success or be prepared for the consequences.

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1 Comment

Comment posted August 4, 2009 @ 4:53 pm

It's not an unforced error when you say what you really believe, and Craig, a Ted Kennedy protege
really believes this, that the intelligence community is the real threat, not the actual enemies of America

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