A president is free to choose anyone to be his White House Counsel and he does not have to explain his choice to anyone, nor does the one chosen to be White House Counsel have to undergo scrutiny by the United States Senate as do almost all of the other important appointments that the president makes. I suggest that the character of the man the president of the United States selects to be his White House Counsel says as much about the character of the president as it reveals about the character of the man selected to be White House Counsel. Byron York, writing in the current issue (January 26, 2009) of THE NATIONAL REVIEW has this to say, in part, about Gregory Craig and, by inference, about Barack Hussein Obama:
“Gregory Craig, the man Barack Obama chose to be the next White House counsel. Craig’s representation of an American soldier’s killer [Pedro Miguel Gonzalez] drew scant notice during the 2008 campaign, when Craig was a top Obama adviser. It has drawn little attention since Obama named him White House counsel. And it will probably remain relatively unnoticed as the spotlight focuses on the Obama administration’s economic plan, on the Middle East, and on Iraq.
Craig, now 63, is best known for his defense of Bill Clinton in the Senate impeachment trial. But much of Craig’s experience prior to that was in the area of foreign affairs, particularly in Latin America. Originally a lawyer with the powerful Washington firm Williams & Connolly, in 1984 Craig left to become a foreign-policy adviser to Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy. In that role, he supported the Nicaraguan Sandinistas against Contra rebels. He supported Kennedy’s call to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and in 1986, after Fidel Castro released political prisoners to the Rev. Jesse Jackson and (somewhat improbably) French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, Craig traveled to Cuba to arrange the release of a Bay of Pigs prisoner to Kennedy. Craig also went to Panama as the U.S. built the case against Noriega.
After leaving Kennedy’s office, Craig returned to Williams & Connolly. When his one-year ban on lobbying ended, he immediately registered as a foreign agent to represent Panama, Argentina, and Bolivia. In 1997, he joined the Clinton State Department as a top adviser to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In August 1998, he left State to join the Clinton impeachment team, and the next year went back to Williams & Connolly and his foreign clients. In 2000, he returned to Cuba, working with Fidel Castro to bring about the return of Elián González, the young boy whose mother had died trying to bring him to the United States.
Craig is a busy lawyer who has had a lot of clients over the years. In addition to those discussed earlier, he defended Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general accused of corruption in the oil-for-food program in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; John Hinckley, the man who shot and almost killed Ronald Reagan; and William Kennedy Smith, the Kennedy nephew accused of rape in Palm Beach, Fla., in 1991.
It’s hard to point out a pattern in these cases. It’s fair to say he handled the Smith matter because of his Kennedy connections. He worked on the Clinton defense because he is a loyal Democrat who’d known the Clintons since his years with them at Yale Law School. And Hinckley? Well, Hinckley’s father was wealthy and hired Williams & Connolly, although that was probably a case some lawyers wouldn’t have taken.
In the area of foreign affairs, however, there is perhaps a pattern in Craig’s work. From Pedro Miguel González to Fidel Castro to Daniel Ortega, Craig has offered his assistance to antagonists of the United States. It’s not illegal, but it’s the kind of thing that lawyers occasionally agonize about. “It’s a delicate issue because generally we don’t hold lawyers responsible for the views of their clients,” one conservative attorney in Washington told me recently. “That said, it is a point worth considering when a lawyer has time and again gone to the well and represented somebody on the other side of an issue from America. Lawyers remain free to turn down clients.”
A liberal Washington lawyer who knows Craig put it a bit differently. “Greg defending somebody who is a bad guy not only does not offend me, it’s consistent with what lawyers do,” he told me. “The answer is everybody has their own moral compass, and there’s a line out there that most lawyers will answer, no, I wouldn’t do that one, I’ll let somebody else do that one.”
When it came to Pedro Miguel González, Craig said yes, I’ll do that one. Now, as he assumes the post of White House counsel, and with it all the issues that will confront the president’s lawyer, the question will again be: Where does he draw the line?”