Obama picks presidential assassin's lawyer as White House counsel

Barack Obama has selected Gregory Craig as White House counsel, a move that will recall some controversial legal cases over the last few years.  Craig has plenty of experience in politics as well as the courtroom, having served as Bill Clinton’s legal counsel during the impeachment hearings.  Craig flipped from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama early in the primaries, and Obama has repaid his support — but Craig’s caseload will raise a few eyebrows:

Gregory B. Craig, a well-known Washington lawyer who quarterbacked President Bill Clinton’s impeachment defense, has been chosen White House counsel by President-elect Barack Obama, according to Democratic officials.

Craig is intimately familiar with the president-elect’s record because he played the role of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in debate preparations.

The officials said Obama has settled on Craig but were not sure when the appointment would be announced.

The choice gives the president-elect both experience and loyalty. During the primaries, Craig was an early Clinton alumni defector to Obama. Columnist Robert D. Novak reported back in the winter of 2007 that Craig had told him he “was impressed with Obama when he first met him at the home of investment banker Vernon Jordan, an intimate friend and supporter of the Clintons.”

Craig was an Obama foreign policy adviser during the campaign. At the start of the Clinton administration, he had been the State Department’s Director of Policy Planning, the head of State’s in-house think tank. He also was senior adviser on defense, foreign policy and national security to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Besides defending Clinton through the impeachment process, an effort that Craig lost, who else had the benefit of Craig’s counsel?

  • Elian Gonzalez’s father – Craig represented the father who demanded the return of his son after his estranged wife died trying to take Elian to freedom.  Most people saw this as a thinly-veiled publicity stunt from Fidel Castro, attempting to embarrass the US.  The dispute got resolved when Janet Reno ordered an armed assault on the house where Elian’s family in the US provided him a home.
  • John Hinckley, Jr – Craig presented and won the insanity defense that allows Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin to spend weekends with his family now.
  • Kofi Annan – The former Secretary-General of the UN hired Craig to defend his interests in the Volcker Commission probe of the Oil-for-Food scandal, which put billions of dollars into Saddam Hussein’s pockets while providing cash for Annan’s son, his deputies, and some allege Annan himself.
  • Pedro Gonzalez Pinzon – A Panamanian legislator wanted for murdering an American soldier in 1992.  The Dallas Morning News demanded that Obama force Craig to drop the case during the campaign, but no report of whether he did is easily available.

I doubt that any President has selected the defender of a presidential assassin as White House Counsel before now. Does anyone want to guess how long that takes to become a Trivial Pursuit question?

Given Craig’s dubious client list, especially Gonzalez Pinzon as an apparent active client, this selection is a disgrace.  The last person we need in the White House is an attorney who represented assassins, Castro and his goons, corrupt UN executives, and a suspected killer of an American soldier.  Those are the people the White House should focus on stopping, not embracing.

Update: I’m not saying that people should not have defense counsel when charged with a crime; that’s an absurd response to this post.  What I’m saying is that Craig is an absurd choice for White House counsel on the basis of the kinds of cases he himself pursued.  No one forced him to take Hinckley, Gonzalez Pinzon, Annan, or Gonzalez/Castro as clients.  Like most attorneys looking to boost their practice, Craig undoubtedly competed hard for their business.

Was Craig the only attorney available for this gig?  No.  Could Barack Obama find someone qualified who wasn’t currently representing a man suspected of murdering an American soldier or who represented a presidential assassin?  If not, then Obama’s more incompetent than anyone figured.