WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House Counsel Gregory Craig said Friday he was resigning, ending a troubled tenure marked by his central role in the administration’s rocky efforts to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Craig’s departure, effective on January 3, represents the highest-ranking White House resignation since President Barack Obama took office in January and followed widespread reports of complaints within the administration over his management of Guantanamo policy.
Obama’s promise to shut the internationally condemned detention center in Cuba by January 22 has run into serious obstacles, making it unlikely all the foreign terrorism suspects detained there can be transferred to meet the deadline.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Craig’s departure as Obama’s top lawyer was not due to dissatisfaction with his handling of Guantanamo issues. Gibbs insisted Craig had made a substantial contribution to the Guantanamo shutdown process.
Craig’s announcement, which followed weeks of speculation that he was on the way out, coincided with the Justice Department’s unveiling of plans to send five high-profile Guantanamo detainees to New York to stand trial.
Neither Craig nor the White House gave any immediate reason for his resignation, except to say he was returning to private practice. Craig will be replaced by Bob Bauer, longtime legal adviser to Obama, the White House said.
Other U.S. officials were reported to have privately criticized Craig for missteps in planning the closing of the Guantanamo facility, including failure to anticipate the depth of congressional opposition and legal complications.
“Greg Craig is a close friend and trusted advisor who tackled many tough challenges as White House Counsel,” Obama said in a statement released while visiting Tokyo at the start of an Asian tour.
“Because of Greg’s leadership, we have confirmed the first Latina justice on the Supreme Court, set the toughest ethics standards for any administration in history, and ensured that we are keeping the nation secure in a manner that is consistent with our laws and our values,” Obama said.
Craig, a veteran Washington lawyer, also played a leading role in revising Bush-era policies for interrogation of terrorism suspects, including a ban on torture, that had drawn heavy international criticism.
He was initially assigned to the search that yielded the Supreme Court nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor before the task was turned over to other administration officials.
Craig, 64, represented former President Bill Clinton during his 1998 Senate impeachment trial and became one of the earliest Clinton allies to join Obama’s campaign in the Democratic presidential primaries against Hillary Clinton. He also was an adviser to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
“It has been an honor to work for you,” Craig said in his resignation letter to Obama. “We have helped develop a legal framework that will deal with threats to our national security in a way as to protect our nation from harm while remaining true to our most fundamental values.”
The announcement came on the same day the administration said an alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four others would be sent from Guantanamo for prosecution in a criminal court in New York.
Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, editing by Will Dunham
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.