WASHINGTON — In a shakeup, White House Counsel Greg Craig abruptly announced his resignation Friday, just weeks after telling reporters that he had no plans to leave.
Craig gave no hint of the reason for his resignation in a statement that the White House released, and he couldn't be reached for comment.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told people weeks ago, however, that Craig would be gone by the end of the year, and questions persisted about whether Craig would be the scapegoat for problems and delays in the planned shutdown of the detainee prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"The mistakes the Obama administration made were almost exclusively about dealing with Congress and poor defense of its policy," said Ken Gude, a scholar at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research center with close White House connections. "That is not the responsibility of the White House counsel."
Gude, who this week released a report that was critical of the administration's handling of the planned Guantanamo shutdown, said he was "most disappointed" that the White House had announced Craig's departure on the same day that it unveiled new plans for trying some of the people held at Guantanamo.
As the White House released the statement on Craig's resignation, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators will be transferred from Guantanamo to New York and tried in a civilian court. Gude said the policy was "a victory for Greg Craig."
The twin announcements came a day after Obama left the country for a weeklong trip to Asia. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters traveling with Obama in Japan that Craig's abrupt resignation didn't reflect any dissatisfaction over the counsel's handling of the Guantanamo case.
"The president sees Greg as a friend and trusted adviser and someone whose contributions to this administration are lengthy, particularly in setting up a process that will result in the (shutdown) of Guantanamo Bay."
The administration, however, has fallen behind its own timetable to figure out what to do with the detainees. It's all but certain to miss Obama's stated Jan. 22 deadline, and no new date has been set.
Besides working on the Guantanamo shutdown, Craig was a key player in the Obama administration's changes in ethics rules and detention and torture policies, as well as the successful nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.
Known for his role as one of former President Bill Clinton's defense lawyers during his 1998 impeachment, Craig was one of the first Clinton loyalists to support Obama. He had said he was interested in a job in foreign policy, but he was named White House counsel.
"Greg Craig is a close friend and trusted adviser who tackled many tough challenges as White House counsel," Obama said in a statement.
Obama said that his new White House counsel would be Bob Bauer, who served as Obama's campaign lawyer. Bauer is a partner at Perkins Coie, a large international law firm based in Seattle. He's married to Anita Dunn, who announced her resignation last week as the White House communications director to return to private political consulting. She'd made it clear upon taking the White House job that she'd leave by year's end.
"Bob has served as a trusted counselor for many years to many elected officials and is known as a tough and widely respected advocate," Obama said.
"Bob is well-positioned to lead the counsel's office as it addresses a wide variety of responsibilities, including managing the large amount of litigation the administration inherited, identifying judicial nominees for the federal courts and assuring that White House officials continue to be held to the highest legal and ethical standards."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
For more McClatchy politics coverage visit Planet Washington