President Barack Obama is reportedly interested in nominating a candidate to replace retiring Attorney General Eric Holder quickly. In doing so, he faces a conundrum; nominate someone with liberal bona fides who will fire up the base ahead of the midterms and likely accept a long and divisive confirmation process, or back a relatively apolitical career attorney who will not face a brutal confirmation but who also does not ignite the Democratic electorate.
Early reports, and a healthy dose of tasseography, suggest that Obama will sacrifice this opportunity to rouse the base in order to fill this vacancy in his Cabinet fast. Most of the names being circulated are not going to set off a partisan debate that will forestall a quick confirmation.
But one of the names being floated as a possible replacement for Holder is raising eyebrows, and she may be the person at the top of Obama’s short list: Former White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler.
“Frontrunner’s not the right word,” Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd said on Friday when Ruemmler’s name came up. “I would say perhaps the president’s first choice.”
“I’ve talked to some people who indicate that’s somebody, you know, that’s the first person he thought of,” he added.
Okay, maybe Obama was merely playing a word association game. Perhaps he looked at an ink blot that resembled the Justice Department and the first name that came to mind was Ruemmler’s. It’s possible. To suggest that she is his first choice for the job of Attorney General is odd, however, considering how often the White House threw Ruemmler under the bus when she served in the administration.
The team at Ace of Spades did an excellent job of compiling the number of times in which Obama was purportedly victimized by his own staff, Ruemmler in particular. The president has been routinely misled or poorly informed about controversies of which he claimed to have no foreknowledge, and often the White House counsel was to blame for Obama’s ignorance.
“The White House Counsel’s office advised senior Obama officials to keep quiet about the attack in Benghazi during the weeks preceding last year’s November presidential election, according to two administration sources,” Buzzfeed reported in the Spring of 2013, just as it became clear the administration had not been forthcoming with all of the details relating to the Benghazi attack just weeks before the 2012 presidential election.
BuzzFeed has learned that key members of President Obama’s national security team, including deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, pushed to release a comprehensive timeline of events documenting the attack that would also synthesize the views of the various government agencies into one report. The CIA also wanted the White House to put out such a timeline, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Those plans were quashed, however, when the White House Counsel’s office, which is led by Kathryn Ruemmler, advised the officials to not release any information to the public out of fear it could be used against them in any subsequent investigations and other legal complications.
Drat! If only that meddling Ruemmler hadn’t interfered with the process, Barack Obama would have gladly disclosed to the public every bit of information about the Benghazi attacks and the State Department’s poor advanced preparation just weeks before the heated 2012 presidential contest.
That’s not the only information the dastardly Ruemmler kept to herself over the course of her tenure in the White House:
“Senior White House officials, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, learned last month about a review by the Treasury Department’s inspector general into whether the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, but they did not inform President Obama, the White House said Monday,” The Washington Post revealed just days after IRS official Lois Lerner broke the IRS scandal in 2013 after planting a question about a forthcoming IG report indicating the tax agency had improperly targeted conservatives.
The acknowledgement is the White House’s latest disclosure in a piecemeal, sometimes confusing release of details concerning the extent to which White House officials knew of the IG’s findings that IRS officials engaged in the “inappropriate” targeting of conservative non-profits for heightened scrutiny. Previously, the White House said counsel Kathryn Ruemmler did not learn about the final results of the investigation until the week of April 22nd, and had not disclosed that McDonough and other aides had also been told about the investigation. On Monday, White House Spokesman Jay Carney said a member of Ruemmler’s staff learned of the probe the week of April 16; Ruemmler learned of the investigation on April 24th; and after that point she informed the chief of staff and other aides about the probe’s findings.
“Carney said it was the White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler’s judgment that the matter should not be told to the president, and that she conveyed this sentiment to senior staff,” The Hill reported at the time.
Again! That Ruemmler, always keeping the good bits to herself in a sinister effort to ensure the president maintains plausible deniability. What a scoundrel.
It’s quite possible that Obama was a victim of compartmentalization in both cases, and that Ruemmler did determine keeping the key details of what would become administration-engulfing scandals to herself and her subordinates was the right call. It’s equally likely that Obama will pass on giving Ruemmler the nod to become the next AG, or that the former White House counsel would have no interest in taking the job.
On the other hand, Eric Holder has been routinely described by profilers as Obama’s “heat shield.” He reliably draws and takes criticisms that the president would prefer to avoid. Given Ruemmler’s documented history as an administration firewall, maybe she really is Obama’s “first choice.”