Not Supposed to Happen in Obama Land: Intrigue Behind Gregory Craig’s Resignation

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gregory craig twn db.jpgI just published an article at The Daily Beast on White House Counsel Gregory Craig’s resignation.
For the record, I am an admirer of Greg Craig’s. I think that Craig is one of the few people on the progressive side of things who has a deep grasp of the complexities of America’s GITMO problems hatched by the last administration. In my view, he is the White House lawyer tasked with closing GITMO, not the PR machine and political operator who was supposed to seduce Congress in permitting detainees to be moved into the justice and prison system of the United States. The President and White House Chief of Staff were AWOL when it came to laying the political groundwork for what Craig was tasked with doing.
Beyond the GITMO drama, I think that something else quite disconcerting has happened in the White House that was not happening during the Obama campaign.
The manner in which Greg Craig was undermined by leaks by senior White House colleagues seemed to have the President’s tacit approval — and this was something according to David Plouffe’s new book, The Audacity to Win, would never have happened during the campaign.
In a “Team of Rivals White House”, what happens when character assassination and leaks from within are given tacit support from those who hold the keys to the White House?
Here is the first part of “The Assassination of Greg Craig“:

Gregory Craig, White House counsel to President Obama and national security advisor to Obama during the presidential campaign, resigned his post this past Friday. But when rumors broke Thursday of his imminent departure, Craig had not written his farewell note and may not have planned to leave – yet.
Since the summer, word had been leaking that Greg Craig’s days were numbered and that Obama campaign legal counsel Bob Bauer would be moving in to take Craig’s spot. But the situation seemed similar to the leaks about National Security Adviser Jim Jones’ supposedly tenuous hold on his job–which were either untrue, or turned around by Jones’ performance. The leaks about Craig also seemed unfounded–especially in light of direct statements from the White House that the statements were untrue and that he was not departing.
Some observers are now calling this incident the Obama team’s first assassination by leak.
Such intrigue and innuendo stand in sharp contrast to the internal vow of key stakeholders in Barack Obama’s campaign, as reported in David Plouffe’s insider account Audacity to Win–whom he says vowed not to allow “@#%holes” and leaks and the blame game to disrupt any aspect of their campaign. When problems arose or mistakes were made, the president and his team were forthright and dealt with each other directly and confessed their sins, when they committed them, to the public.

The rest can be read here.
– Steve Clemons
Update: Marc Ambinder has more well researched context on the back story of Gregory Craig’s situation in the White House, which doesn’t change the dynamic of ‘assassination by leak’ but does explain why Greg Craig was out of favor beyond the GITMO explanation — which made no sense on its own. — Steve Clemons

Comments

28 comments on “Not Supposed to Happen in Obama Land: Intrigue Behind Gregory Craig’s Resignation

  1. nadine says:

    Why the Greg Craig debacle matters
    by Elizabeth Drew
    President Barack Obama is returning from his trek to Asia Thursday to a capital that is a considerably more dangerous place for him than when he departed.
    While he was abroad, there was a palpable sense at home of something gone wrong. A critical mass of influential people who once held big hopes for his presidency began to wonder whether they had misjudged the man. Most significant, these doubters now find themselves with a new reluctance to defend Obama at a phase of his presidency when he needs defenders more urgently than ever.
    This is the price Obama has paid with his complicity and most likely his active participation, in the shabbiest episode of his presidency: The firing by leaks of White House counsel Gregory Craig, a well-respected Washington veteran and influential early supporter of Obama.
    The people who are most aghast by the handling of the Craig departure can’t be dismissed by the White House as Republican partisans, or still-embittered Hillary Clinton supporters. They are not naïve activists who don’t understand that the exercise of power can be a rough business and that trade-offs and personal disappointments are inevitable. Instead, they are people, either in politics or close observers, who once held an unromantically high opinion of Obama. They were important to his rise, and are likely more important to the success or failure of his presidency than Obama or his distressingly insular and small-minded West Wing team appreciate.
    The Craig embarrassment gives these people a new reason – not the first or only reason – to conclude that he wasn’t the person of integrity and even classiness they had thought, and, more fundamentally, that his ability to move people and actually lead a fractured and troubled country (the reason many preferred him over Hillary Clinton) is not what had been promised in the campaign.
    cont. at http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1109/29716.html

    Reply

  2. Paul Norheim says:

    Oh, it was just a short, stupid comment – one of these rants with expressions like
    “BloodyIsrael” and similar stuff, and accusations against Steve of not taking exactly
    the same position as the poster (essentially not a political, but an emotional
    position, BTW). Of course, these kinds of posts are not constructive, but I guess Steve
    also wanted to make a point of where he draws the red line – for regular, as well as
    irregular posters. In line with his decision to block the comment section for some
    days, I guess he wanted to say: Less emotions; more political content, please.

    Reply

  3. ... says:

    i never saw haunsons comment and was just speaking generally… it sounds as though haunson went way over the line and it is rare for steve to take down a post… certain posts go way over the line.. i guess this was one of them..

    Reply

  4. Paul Norheim says:

    “Posted by David T, Nov 17 2009, 8:15PM – Link
    I respectfully disagree with … about Steve’s need to develop
    a thicker skin.”
    ——————-
    Me too. I read Haunson`s comment before it was removed, and think that Steve`s
    decision is about principles, and not about feelings.

    Reply

  5. David T says:

    I respectfully disagree with … about Steve’s need to develop
    a thicker skin. I sincerely doubt that most people would
    continue to be open to comments on their blog if they had
    been subjected to some of the recriminations in this corner of
    the web. I don’t know what Haunson wrote but I do know
    that I’ve at times been a bit rough with Steve and many
    others have been so much rougher than me and periodically
    not engaged in their comments what Steve was saying. I’ve
    gotten the impression that Steve does his best to read all the
    comments on the Washington Note and do his level best to
    reply when he feels it appropriate and/or he has time. I
    prefer, given that he withstands so much acrimonious
    communications directed his way that if someone steps over
    his line of acceptable behaviour that he continues to scold
    them given that they have probably gone way too far. Thanks
    and again to Steve for the opportunity here for all of us to
    share our feedback — ranging from supportive to quite barbed.

    Reply

  6. ... says:

    dear steve.. you are a gracious stand up guy… don’t let these comments get to you… try to develop a thicker skin, and meanwhile thanks for all your hard work and sharing with us here..

    Reply

  7. Steve Clemons says:

    Dear Commenters, I am in Perugia, Italy at the moment and dont have the means where I am to delete the comment immediately above by Mr. Haunson. But this is the kind of comment that will never be permitted on this blog….so Mr. Haunson promises he wont be back for some ridiculous reason. I hope he keeps his word. His comment will be deleted soon.
    Steve Clemons

    Reply

  8. nadine says:

    Dan, what I heard leaked about Craig was that he was about to leave. Pink slip via a leak, essentially. I don’t know if there were earlier leaks; if so they didn’t make the headlines.

    Reply

  9. Paul Norheim says:

    “Paul, GW Bush certainly had an opposition voice within his administration, in the
    person of Colin Powell.”
    Yes, that`s correct. But Bush didn`t chose to listen to different voices until Rice, a
    person Bush had confidence in, became Sec of State. Before that, he only listened to
    his gut feelings and Dick C, and they seemed to sing with one voice.

    Reply

  10. nadine says:

    Paul, GW Bush certainly had an opposition voice within his administration, in the person of Colin Powell. State and Defense were at open war with each other for most of Bush’s eight years. It just fell out that the side I’m sure you like the least won the arguments in the first term. That in itself is not evidence that no contrary arguments were aired. Woodward’s account of Bush decision-making does not give the impression of yes-men.
    But of course the bubble effect is real, and all administrations must cope with it. If President Obama did not previously understand why President Bush valued loyalty so highly, he is now learning why.

    Reply

  11. nadine says:

    I understand Steve. But using information which has been already leaked (& thus is already public) to defend yourself to the press from a foe who is attacking you via the New York Times, is not imho quite the same as leaking information to discredit an opposing faction in part of what is supposed to be your own administration. That’s why the comparison struck me as inapt.

    Reply

  12. Dan Kervick says:

    What exactly was “leaked” about Craig that let to his ouster? I wish Steve would remember that his readers don’t *all* run among the same DC gossip mongers that he does.

    Reply

  13. Paul Norheim says:

    I found this quote from the Daily Beast article more interesting than the specifics (or
    lack of specifics) related to Craig`s resignation:
    “Now that the White House has opened the door to the political tradecraft of leaks,
    others on the Obama team may feel empowered to deploy these indirect assaults in their
    own battles against internal foes. Given the “team of rivals” Obama has assembled in
    nearly every policy arena, the coming policy wars in and around the White House will be
    fascinating to watch.”
    There were probably fewer internal leaks of a similar kind in the Bush administration.
    Bush valued “loyalty” to such a degree that he ended up in a bubble surrounded by yes-
    sayers, and this is one of the reasons why his policies were so bad until, say, when he
    fired Rumsfeld. In his last years, Bush had at least two significantly different, often
    opposite voices advising him: Cheney, the good old, and Rice, who found her diplomatic
    voice as a Secretary of State.
    Obama obviously prefers listening to multiple voices disagreeing with each other -
    the current process regarding a future strategy in Afghanistan is a good example. But if
    internal leaks become common practice within a “team of rival”, this will eventually
    become very messy. Rahm Emanuel may or may not be in the center of all this, but it`s of
    course the President who is ultimately responsible for how this is going to develop -
    and whether the “team of rivals” will be his strength or his achilles heel.

    Reply

  14. elcee says:

    So you didn’t want Daschle for Chief of Staff? I could have sworn I read that here. I remember you saying he didn’t want it, which sounds like someone close to Daschle. You were also ready to blame Emanuel for Israel, even though he has publicly pushed for a two state solution and an end to settlements.

    Reply

  15. Steven Clemons says:

    nadine — i used the word promulgate specifically because rove
    and libby took the valerie plame info to a far higher level than
    armitage – who of course initiated the leak, which i have written
    about in the blog many times. I was writing about a specific
    type of action — of using leaks to fight a foe — and while there
    are enormous differences between the Plame case and what has
    happened to Greg Craig, there is a key similarity — and that is
    what I was trying to point out. Sorry that you felt it was cheap -
    - but I was trying to make a point about the similar degree of
    skulduggery involved. I think that what Rove/Libby/Armitage
    did was wrong — but so too do I find the manner of takedown
    of Greg Craig wrong.
    Elcee — I am going to leave your post up….but obviously, you
    haven’t been around for a while or you’d know that you are
    dangerously close to being deleted from the system. Play
    constructively here — or don’t post. But to be direct with your
    rather silly concoction, I have no interest in Tom Daschle
    becoming Chief of Staff — and I stand prepared to applaud
    Rahm Emanuel when he begins showing a greater capability to
    achieve progress on any of the fundamental challenges facing
    the country. I see a guy right now who is better at operating in
    the shadows politically than in achieving results through either
    those shadowy means or upfront means. Success would help
    Rahm a bit — but I have to say that the Middle East fiasco,
    various missteps on health care, the shelving of climate change,
    a jobless economic recovery, and the like are pretty dismal
    results from the team running politics and policy in the White
    House.
    So, let’s drop the innuendo elcee and debate the issues on their
    merits.
    all best,
    Steve Clemons

    Reply

  16. elcee says:

    Still pushing for your friend Tom Daschle to get the Chief of Staff spot? You had that mouthy… non-WASP Rahm Emanuel blamed for everything from the get go. Now you’ve got some anonymous sources who are using you to push their agenda, and you’re more than happy to do so since it fits so nicely with your own. Meanwhile, Craig says he only promised a year, Emanuel says blaming Craig for Gitmo is ridiculous, and most outside the beltway could care less.

    Reply

  17. nadine says:

    Good, I must be doing something right.

    Reply

  18. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Personally, I find Nadine’s daily lies and propaganda far more offensive than ANYTHING I have yet seen transpire on this blog in the years I’ve posted here.

    Reply

  19. nadine says:

    “Additionally, the commenter Nadine uses the opportunity to spin the Plame leak in a manner consistent with neocon view and revisionism.”
    Don, my “spin” of the Plame leak is supported by the facts. Fact: Armitage confessed to being the initial leaker. Steve got around that inconvenient fact that by using the word “promulgate”. Fact: Plame’s employment was an open secret. The day Novak’s column linking Plame and Wilson appeared, I heard Andrea Mitchell say, “well I knew that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA. Most reporters working with the intelligence community knew it.” (this is from memory; I heard her say it live on CNN). That’s an open secret. Wilson’s marriage to Plame was in Who’s Who. That’s public knowledge.
    On the other hand, the Dem spin of a politically motivated outing of a CIA agent is not supported by the facts. Plame had not actually been covert since Aldrich Ames exposed her network many years before. That’s why nobody was ever indicted for “outing” her; it wasn’t a crime. Anyway, if anyone did out her, it was her bigmouth husband. Once he boasted of his trip to Niger, every gossip in DC was working to connect the dots. Armitage certainly wasn’t carrying water for the Bush administration; he didn’t even support the war in Iraq, which is why the Dem spinmeisters have dropped his name from the story; it’s another inconvenient fact.
    Of course, since Obama became President, the Democrats have dropped all their faux concerns about maintaining CIA secrecy. The NYT printed the names of CIA interrogators on the the front page; they are fine with that. And that’s nothing. Wait until Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s lawyers start the discovery process! Every secret the CIA has will be demanded in open court.
    The CIA worked very hard to undermine the Bush administration and get a Democrat elected. All I can say is, I hope they’re happy.

    Reply

  20. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Supposing Craig was the victim of typical Washington slime tactics, is this supposed to be some kind of great shock? Does anyone seriously believe you get to be President of the United States because you’re Mister Nice Guy, the shining beacon of ethics and morality?
    I mean look at all the crap Obama threw our way to get elected, that he has completely betrayed us on. DADT, Iraq, FISA, torture, transparency, accountability, the rule of law, signing statements, the list goes on and on. The guy is obviously full of shit, and Craig isn’t the first guy Obama has thrown under the bus, is he??? Wright, Freeman. Who else? And good lord, should we start counting flip flops?
    It hasn’t taken Obama long to expose himself as just another smooth talking vacuum cleaner salesman with waaaaay too much power. This world would be far safer if the guy was knocking on doors in the midwest, selling Hoovers.
    Craig is kind of a “ho hum” when looking at the overall picture of how cunningly dishonest and back stabbing Obama can be. Something tells me we ain’t seen nothing yet. Wait until he gets cornered by his own ineptitude, and the she-wolve Hillary gets the scent of blood.

    Reply

  21. fred buckine says:

    Thank the author for ‘tracking’ our President so closely. His personal “opinons” comments of finding “faults” is his priviledge as an American.
    His “intent” keeps the eyes of readers glued to the greatest President of the USA in its history-He exceeds ole George Washington- who was a newbie and everything he did was not a roadmap for succesors-but an old man trying to do the best he could about something he knew nothing about-
    Today, President Obama, one of the best if not the best equiped human to lead the “world” is doing a “Moses” like job -leading all the people to the mountain top of “togetherness” we can do all things for the benefit of “all our people” i.e. all humanity-The inclusion of “all” lifts Him up and above all naysayer who write “negativism” for a living-
    What do they know? What have they lead? Harvard grads are they? Likely trailer-parkers who gradurated community college in 6 years.

    Reply

  22. ... says:

    dons – trust nadine to give us the bullshit neocon line and think some here are stupid enough to believe it…armitage was just a convenient distraction.. those who leaked it to him still remain conveniently out of the neocons imagination and picture for folks like nadine… case closed dontcha know???? rof…

    Reply

  23. Dan Kervick says:

    Surely it is more important to discuss the substance of what Craig did or did not do while in the administration, and the implications of his departure for a range of ongoing policy questions, than the inside politics of his resignation.
    Anyway, Steve is unwilling to share the details of whatever scuttlebutt he possesses, so it’s impossible for the rest of us among the clueless outside-the-beltway masses to form an intelligent opinion on how the Craig matter was handled, or the opinions or actions of the principals. Who can respond to vague and unintelligible gossip about gossip.
    It seems notable that the momentous decision to try the Gitmo detainees in US courts was made at the time of Craig’s departure. Are we to infer from that timing that Craig was standing in the way of these trials? And why is it that the momentum on a range of Gitmo issues seems to have been reversed, and set moving again in a more pro-active direction after the issue was taken out of his hands?

    Reply

  24. DonS says:

    The Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame analogy may or not be perfectly parallel but, contrary to the commenter Nadine’s view, it clearly reeks of non-transparent, stabbing in the back modality and, therefore, more than apt. Additionally, the commenter Nadine uses the opportunity to spin the Plame leak in a manner consistent with neocon view and revisionism.
    To restrict comparisons to the “wars inside the Bush” administration would be folly since that nest of deluded rats that existed, represented mostly relative evil locked in a repressive and reactionary mindset. Their animus was “other” oriented. Obama, on the other hand, has projected an image of openness, belied in the execution on many fronts, and therefore internal administration backstabbing is notable. That is the point of the post, not the heuristic question of which backstabbing is more germane.

    Reply

  25. David Trilling says:

    Steve,
    Are you appalled that there are leaks from this White House
    or how you feel Craig was treated?  I often enjoy your
    commentary on foreign policy (even if I would like you to try
    to define to yourself what areas you wish to cover and why
    since the coverage can come across more as advocacy than
    analysis, as when you have so many posts on. Cuba :).  
    However from time to time I find your domestic political
    analysis curious and less compelling.
    That this president doesn’t stick precisely to your definition of
    what candidate Obama meant when he contended that his
    White House would be transparent does not a broken
    promise make.  I can’t recall my lifetime a president who
    didn’t both dislike leaks yet have to put up with them.  That’s
    the nature of a free press and an open society in which our
    leaders prefer that they can control some pieces of
    information about their decision-making or policy
    considerations but cannot.   In past postings you’ve decried
    the deification of Mr. Obama.  Here you sound disappointed  
    that he’s at the head of a White House that resembles every
    other White House in certain respects which disappointingly
    suggests he is not Zeus on Mount Olympus but a political
    leader whose advisers don’t agree on everything and in some
    instances use the press to nudge forward a particular policy
    or plan.  
    In addition what I find peculiar is that you are outraged and
    start pointing fingers without explaining how if Craig left
    earlier than he had planned how this makes any difference to
    the country (again unless you believe that everything this
    administration does should be in full public view which I don’t
    think is feasible any more than that Obama can defy the laws
    of physics). 
    I prefer that each of the president’s advisers be treated with
    respect but how skilled one is at working the press is one of
    the key criteria for Washington operatives inside or outside
    the White House.  You cite no particular reason except for a
    power play to explain why anyone would want him gone (the
    press reports which you choose not to engage with is that he
    was finding his responsibilities challenging for whatever
    reason).  But was he really a challenge to the power of the
    president’s chief of staff? Or was his departure more likely a
    reflection that he wasn’t ideally suited for his job?   
    Hope you don’t mind my candor.
    Appreciatively ( for giving me and so many others the
    opportunity to share our views here as well as for all your
    pieces),
    David T.

    Reply

  26. dianaw says:

    Steve: A great post (as well as the full article on DB). I don’t disgree with anything you’ve said. However, I have to wonder if this isn’t historically inevitable when a group of people transitions from campaign mode to actual governance. History tells us, (see DK Goodwin’s TEAM OF RIVALS or Brand’s TRAITOR TO HIS CLASS to see historical accounts of this phenomenon). It also happened in both Bush Adms, and Clinton. That doesn’t excuse it, nor does it solve the problems you raise. I’m simply saying that it’s happened before, and is probably unavoidable. To think that Obama would be different in this regard actually undermines the desperately needed realism about what can actually be accomplished once you are in the Oval Office. I see this as a reality check, not a moral failure. Morality and politics in the same sentence are an oxymoron.

    Reply

  27. nadine says:

    “Think of the manner in which Scooter Libby and Karl Rove promulgated the revelation that Bush administration thorn Joe Wilson was married to a CIA covert operative.”
    It was Armitage who leaked that information, as you well know. But Armitage did not set it in train – that was done by Wilson himself, with his NYT editorial. Since it was unbelievable that the Bush WH should have chosen an ex-diplomat attached to the Kerry campaign for the job of weapons inspector, for which Wilson was not qualified, DC gossip sussed out the real reason. It was not hard to find, since his marriage to Plame was public knowledge and her CIA employment was an open secret.
    It’s not the same thing as one faction in the WH assassinating another faction with a leak war. State and Defense may have warred in the Bush administration, but I don’t recall any factional fights inside the Bush White House to compare. At any rate, the wars inside the Bush administration would have provided a better comparison. The shots against Libbey and Rove were not apt, and look cheap.

    Reply

  28. Lurker says:

    Steve,
    Thanks for this excellent insight into the Obama arena. I hadn’t
    thought about how all of this could work until you so clearly laid
    out the pieces. Gregory Craig sounds like a great man and
    someone who deserves far better from the President he served.
    Thanks again for what you are doing.

    Reply

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