The Things Bob Bauer Was Doing before Taking over Ethics

The White House Ethics Czar, Norman Eisen, has gotten himself nominated to serve as Ambassador in one of the greatest places on earth, Prague, Czech Republic. To replace the function of Ethics Czar, the White House has announced that White House Counsel Bob Bauer will take over, and Steven Croley (who worked on the campaign) will lead a team of six to oversee ethics.

Ethics wonks are mixed about whether this arrangement will meet the high standards Obama set when he came into the White House. POGO’s Danielle Brian takes Bauer’s appointment as a good sign that ethics will continue to be a priority. OMB Watch’s Gary Bass is happy the White House worked so quickly to implement a plan to replace Eisen. But Sunlight Foundation’s Ellen Miller views the appointment of Bauer–who has a history of supporting bad ethics habits–as a setback.

This concern is magnified manifold when Eisen’s key successor – Bauer — can hardly be described as having the DNA of a ‘reformer.’  This is the man who invented the rationale for the acceptance of “soft money’’ – unregulated (chiefly corporate) funds that flooded elections to the tune of $1.5 billion between 1992 and 2002, and the man who sided with arch conservatives in their defense of lack of transparency.

[Update: CREW has concerns as well.]

I’ll leave it to the ethics wonks to decide whether Bauer can do the job–on ethics–well or not. And FWIW, the one time I’ve seen Bauer’s work close up (during an election-related suit here in MI in 2008), I thought he was the kind of fighter Dems need more of.

But I am worried about what this says about the Administration’s focus on two other critically important functions. You see, when Bauer took over for Greg Craig, he was hailed as the kind of guy who could solve two problems Craig had failed to: judicial confirmations and closing Gitmo.

Bmaz has recently catalogued some of the ongoing problems with judicial nominations and confirmations (here and here).

And Josh Gerstein reports that Lindsey Graham just filed a bill to try to force the White House to take a position on things like habeas corpus. Now, frankly, I consider it partly a good sign that the Administration has stopped trying to placate Lindsey’s wishes to carve out huge holes in our civilian legal system. But I couldn’t help but notice that when Robert Gibbs was asked yesterday about the promises Obama hasn’t kept–pointing specifically to gay rights and Gitmo–he said the Administration had a process in place to end DADT, but remained silent about Obama’s promise to close Gitmo.

Q    And what about the rest that is outstanding — gay rights, Guantanamo —

MR. GIBBS:  I will say this — all things that the President made commitments on and is focused on doing.  We have a process underway with the Pentagon to make changes, as the President outlined in the campaign and, quite frankly, even before the campaign, in “don’t ask, don’t tell” as somebody running for the U.S. Senate in 2004.  We have a process to make good on overturning “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Not to mention the squabble over where Ibrahim al Qosi will have to spend his two year secret sentence all seems to assume he’ll remain in Gitmo for that time.

Now, as with many things, the Administration doesn’t deserve all of the blame on these two issues. Republicans have held up key judiciary positions–but the Admin hasn’t even identified a nominee for many of them. Congress has consistently voted against funding the closure of Gitmo, but aside from a few pathetic squeaks explaining how important closing Gitmo and using civilian trials was, the Administration has just left it at that, still forgoing the bully pulpit to explain how important closing Gitmo is. (In news potentially related to Gitmo, Obama’s approval ratings in the Arab world have taken an astonishing nosedive–with those “hopeful” about Obama’s policy in the Middle East dropping from 51% to 16%–though much of that appears to stem from inaction on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.)

Judicial nominations have to be a priority, not least because of the decades-long assault on the judiciary by the Federalist Society.  And Obama has always listed closing Gitmo as one of his big priorities. Yet he just gave the guy who was supposed to resolve those two issues a new, different job to do.

  1. emptywheel says:

    Someday, before I forget my Czech entirely, I want to be Ambassador to Czech Republic.

    Somehow I think Obama’s not going to nominate me anytime soon, though.

        • Mary says:

          White House Counsel can’t be that tough a gig when the DOJ’s policy is, “if the President says it/does it – it’s legal; no one in the Exec branch has to tell the truth to Congress or the courts; conspiracy-torture-assassination-murder are fine if someone thought it would make the President happy; destroying evidence – kidnapping and disappearing children – threatening other nations if they even mention our torture – all those things aren’t just good to DOJ, they’re INSPIRATIONAL!

          Seriously -what the hell does he do in that gig? Send out threat letters to credit card companies who charged the Prez a late fee?

        • klynn says:

          Sorry, I missed that in the one link. I blame the dog and FedEx.

          Wow, a closed information loop again for the WH and ethics. Not so surprising considering the desired outcomes on certain issues.

          The move essentially returns things to the way they were during previous administrations, when the president’s top lawyer handled such matters. But sources stressed that Bauer’s assumption of the portfolio should give it more prominence thanks to his regular face time with President Obama.


          The new six-member legal team will focus on enforcing and reviewing several legal issues, including lobbying reforms, campaign finance, federal whistleblower issues and transparency programs, sources said. It also will work on new initiatives related to regulatory reform, personnel accountability measures and the disclosure of government performance data, sources said.

          (my bold)

          Interesting focal points.

          • klynn says:

            One more thought.

            I guess Harriett did such a great job on the US Attorney firing concerns that they decided it’s the best way to go to hide corruption.

            In July 2010, the Department of Justice prosecutors closed the two-year investigation without filing charges after determining that the firing was inappropriately political, but not criminal, saying “Evidence did not demonstrate that any prosecutable criminal offense was committed with regard to the removal of David Iglesias. The investigative team also determined that the evidence did not warrant expanding the scope of the investigation beyond the removal of Iglesias.”

            Funny this Ethics Czar announcement comes only a few weeks after the investigation is closed.

    • Mauimom says:

      I wouldn’t be so sure, Marcy. He’d probably do it if he thought it would get you out of town and away from internet access.

  2. Mary says:

    I’m sorry – this is the WH counsel that has ok’ed Obama’s assassination of Americans conspiracy, right? He’s the new go-to ethics guy? That’s pretty damn funny, except for the not part.

  3. RevBev says:

    Not to be cynical….after a previous thread and besides Im sick…;) BUT why do all these guys look alike? Truly amazing.

  4. bobschacht says:

    I’m hoping that Obama’s appointments indicate that he believes in redemption. But perhaps they just indicate that he’s totally corrupt. I know many here opt for the latter. I’m still hoping for the former.

    Bob in AZ

    • Mithras61 says:

      Through me the way into the suffering city,

      Through me the way to the eternal pain,

      Through me the way that runs among the lost.

      Justice urged on my high artificer;

      My maker was divine authority,

      The highest wisdom, and the primal love.

      Before me nothing but eternal things

      Were made, and I endure eternally.

      Abandon every hope, who enter here.

      Dante Alighieri – Divine Comedy, Canto III

  5. brownlung says:


    Who enters here

    Will no longer have existence.

    His name and soul have vanished

    And are gone forever.

    Of him there is not left a breath

    In all the vast world.

    He can never return,

    Nor can he ever go onward;

    For where he stands there he must stay.

    No god knows him;

    And unknown will he be in hell.

    He is not day;he is not night

    He is Nothing and Never.

    He is too great for infinity,

    Too small for a grain of sand,

    Which however small,

    Has its place in the universe.

    He is what has never been

    And never thought.

  6. alabama says:

    Obama’s one great, long-term ambition, I believe, is to down-size the “War on Terror” (a continuation of the “Cold War”, itself a continuation of WWII military spending, itself a quick fix for the Great Depression). I believe this, and I’m convinced that it imposes all kinds of political compromises, few of which we can ever know about. For example, I see Obama’s management of Gitmo as being dictated by his wish to keep the Mexican border from being closed. Granted that such a trade-off is obscure, or may not even exist, I can still entertain it as a characteristic move in keeping with the greater priority.

    This hypothesis of “a larger strategy” always promises to shed some cold light on Obama’s more localized political tactics. And since it happens to reduce the element of surprise, and even of disappointment, it can always be regarded, plausibly enough, as an exercise in self-delusion.

  7. rosalind says:

    ot: GM CEO to step down

    General Motors Co. posted a second-quarter profit of $1.3 billion Thursday and announced the retirement of Edward E. Whitacre Jr., the automaker’s chairman and chief executive.

    Whitacre, who became CEO in January, said he would step down in September to be replaced by Daniel F. Akerson, a GM board member and managing director of the Carlyle Group buyout fund. Ackerson will replace Whitacre as chairman by year’s end.

    paging bmaz…or have y’all already discussed this?

  8. OldFatGuy says:

    Ugh, talk about being wrong, boy was I.

    I mentioned some time ago (in a BMAZ thread IIRC) that the only way Congress could stop Obama from closing GITMO was to actively pass language withholding funding. Otherwise, Obama could just close it as Commander in Chief.

    What I wasn’t aware of was what is posted here, that Congress HAD actively passed language for FY2010 blocking funding.

    Geez, I’ve been holding Obama responsible for this for some time and that’s unfair in this case. I still hold him responsible for lots of other stuff (assassinations, habeas corpus, renditions, etc.) but he really can’t be blamed for this one.

    Thanks Emptywheel for clueing in a clueless old fat guy. Usually I’m pretty good about following the crap Congres passes, but I totally missed that. As usual though, FDL has it covered.

    Best site on the tubes, bar none.

    My apologies to all Obama supporters for wrongly continuing to hold him accountable for not closing GITMO.