WH Counsel Greg Craig Might Leave Because of Gitmo?

Here is a story from the Washington Post and Pro Publica that reports the facts faithfully but does not, I believe, come to the correct conclusion. The essence of the article is that Greg Craig, the White House counsel, is taking the blame for the Guantanamo closing and the messiness that resulted from it, and that the administration took away Gitmo from his portfolio, and that Craig may be, ah, promoted out of the White House to a job on the federal bench or become an ambassador.

Here's what I don't get: if there's one thing that would cause Craig to earn the displeasure of his boss, President Obama, Gitmo wouldn't be it. It was Obama who insisted on closing Gitmo in a year. The administration always assumed that Congress would give them some problems. It anticipated a bit of panic (though not as much panic as the Democrats ginned up). But -- as the end of the year-long closure period approaches -- the process, it turns out, seems to have been a good one. Now -- it was very messy. It required adjustments and more supervision from other White House managers -- Craig is not much of a manager -- but -- Gitmo's gonna be closed, relatively on time, maybe a few months late. The administration has concluded that it needs no new legal authority to get the prisoners off of the island. Many prisoners have been released. Others have been transferred to friendly countries. Trials -- always the toughest part of this -- are beginning. But a major symbol of American badness is no longer haunting the halls of our country's self-identity. Closing Gitmo, from A to Z, is an unprecedented feat of bureaucracy. I know from first hand reporting that, if there's one thing that President Obama respects his counsel for, it's been his commitment to getting Gitmo right.

As one Democrat who advises the administration on these matters put it to me tonight, "All this whining about the deadline is BS. They've reaped so much international good will from setting a firm deadline. If they had proceeded as they have on transfers and trials, everyone would be saying 'what change.'"

So if Craig is indeed on his way out, and so quickly -- I would have expected a two year tenure at least -- something else must be up. Here's what I know about that. Craig has one of the biggest staffs of any unit in the White House and more lawyers working for him than the Bush administration employed in its counsel's office. But he hasn't been the best manager, and a lot of little things that turned into big things have fallen through the cracks, involving some national security decisions unrelated to GTMO and the management of the relationship between the Justice Department and the White House counsel's office. Craig was convinced, for example, that Obama's release of the Office of Legal Counsel memos from the Bush administration era would not necessarily lead to the opening of a retroactive investigation. That was a misjudgment -- but it was one that many White House officials shared. So maybe -- maybe -- these types of things are contributing to Craig's feeling that it would be better for the Obama presidency if he moved on. But leaving because of Gitmo -- arguably a success -- just doesn't make sense.

A senior White House official provided me with a response to the Post story on background: "Blaming Greg for any problems we may have is patently unfair. That's not how the president, Rahm, or any other senior staff feel."