Mayer on Rahm

I first teased out Rahm Emanuel’s role in reversing Obama’s early efforts to reclaim our country from torture last July. In August, my comments at Netroots Nation focused on Rahm’s role in preventing accountability for torture. I kept tracking Rahm’s campaign to prevent accountability here, here, and here.

Today, Jane Mayer has an extended profile of Eric Holder that fleshes out what we’ve all known: Rahm’s the guy who killed accountability for torture.

Emanuel viewed many of the legal problems that Craig and Holder were immersed in as distractions. “When Guantánamo walked in the door, Rahm walked out,” the informed source said. Holder and Emanuel had been collegial since their Clinton Administration days. Holder’s wife, Sharon Malone, an obstetrician, had delivered one of Emanuel’s children. But Emanuel adamantly opposed a number of Holder’s decisions, including one that widened the scope of a special counsel who had begun investigating the C.I.A.’s interrogation program. Bush had appointed the special counsel, John Durham, to assess whether the C.I.A. had obstructed justice when it destroyed videotapes documenting waterboarding sessions. Holder authorized Durham to determine whether the agency’s abuse of detainees had itself violated laws. Emanuel worried that such investigations would alienate the intelligence community. But Holder, who had studied law at Columbia with Telford Taylor, the chief American prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials, was profoundly upset after seeing classified documents explicitly describing C.I.A. prisoner abuse. The United Nations Convention Against Torture requires the U.S. to investigate credible torture allegations. Holder felt that, as the top law-enforcement officer in the U.S., he had to do something.

Emanuel couldn’t complain directly to Holder without violating strictures against political interference in prosecutorial decisions. But he conveyed his unhappiness to Holder indirectly, two sources said. Emanuel demanded, “Didn’t he get the memo that we’re not re-litigating the past?”

That’s what human rights are to Rahm Emanuel–mere distractions, speed bumps on his road to nine wins or–in the case of health care reform–epic failure.

Where Mayer breaks real news in her description of Rahm’s role in preventing accountability is her description of why Rahm opposed so many of Holder’s decisions: because they offended Lindsey Graham.

At the White House, Emanuel, who is not a lawyer, opposed Holder’s position on the 9/11 cases. He argued that the Administration needed the support of key Republicans to help close Guantánamo, and that a fight over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could alienate them. “There was a lot of drama,” the informed source said. Emanuel was particularly concerned with placating Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, who was a leading proponent of military commissions, and who had helped Obama on other issues, such as the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “Rahm felt very, very strongly that it was a mistake to prosecute the 9/11 people in the federal courts, and that it was picking an unnecessary fight with the military-commission people,” the informed source said. “Rahm had a good relationship with Graham, and believed Graham when he said that if you don’t prosecute these people in military commissions I won’t support the closing of Guantánamo. . . . Rahm said, ‘If we don’t have Graham, we can’t close Guantánamo, and it’s on Eric!’ ”

At Emanuel’s urging, Holder spoke with Graham several times. But they could not reach an agreement. Graham told me, “It was a nonstarter for me. There’s a place for the courts, but not for the mastermind of 9/11.” He said, “On balance, I think it would be better to close Guantánamo, but it would be better to keep it open than to give these guys civilian trials.” Graham, who served as a judge advocate general in the military reserves, vowed that he would do all he could as a legislator to stop the trials. “The President’s advisers have served him poorly here,” he said. “I like Eric, but at the end of the day Eric made the decision.” Last week, Graham introduced a bill in the Senate to cut off funding for criminal trials related to 9/11. [my emphasis]

All along Rahm’s campaign against Greg Craig and Holder he left complaint after complaint that they had ruined the relationship with Congress. This, I suppose, is what Rahm means: doing anything–even those actions dictated by international law–that offend poor Lindsey’s sensibilities is a mistake, tantamount to ruining the President’s relationship with Congress. And I guess Rahm is okay with that–ceding the President’s authority on national security and legal issues to Lindsey Graham.

And look what you get out of that: Lindsey in a snit, pouting that the Attorney General of the United States determined to try criminals in a civilian court. And in response, refusing to close Gitmo.

In other words, we can’t close Gitmo because Obama’s “crack” Chief of Staff has willingly ceded the authority of the Attorney General of the United States to one Senator from the opposing party, and that single Senator is pouting because the Attorney General might choose law over Kangaroo Courts.

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How Dick Cheney Cowed Obama

Mary has already linked to this article on how and why Greg Craig got thrown out in comments. But I wanted to make sure everyone read it. The short version of the timeline it describes is:

April 16: Obama releases the torture memos

April 17: Greg Craig moves to release Uighurs in US

April 20: Dick Cheney says mean things about Obama

Late April: A drop in Obama’s ratings on national security

April 23: Administration says it will release torture photos

April 24: Someone (!) leaks Craig’s plan on Uighurs to Congress

May 8: Obama flip-flops on torture photos

Mid-May: Obama flip-flops on military commissions and release of Uighurs

May 21: Obama’s Archive speech marks completion of national security flip-flop

In other words, after having made the right decision on the torture memos, the Obama Administration let Cheney beat them up over doing so. They did not respond publicly. Rather, they simply caved.

Precisely what Cheney wanted them to do.

I guess Dick Cheney is right–Obama can’t stand up to terrorists. Terrorists like Dick Cheney.

It’s Greg Craig’s Fault that Dawn Johnsen Hasn’t Been Confirmed

Marc Ambinder has one of the most thorough discussions of Greg Craig’s ouster I’ve seen so far. It claims (Eric Holder’s public statements notwithstanding) that Craig wasn’t ousted for his “idealism” on national security…

The notion that the President was dissatisfied with Craig’s handling of the Guantanamo Bay closure has reached the level of an accepted urban myth, even though it is not true.  This may be Craig’s legacy — and it may serve him well with his allies on the ideological left who are eager to portray his departure as evidence that Obama rejects a new national security paradigm.

Rather, he was ousted because his focus on such issues distracted him from things like Senate confirmations.

The White House was also dissatisfied with Craig’s handling of political appointments, believing that Craig should have spent more time working with the Justice Department and with Congress to force through some of the President’s most eagerly-awaited principals, like Dawn Johnsen, whose nomination to be head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel still languishes. The issue of nominations is especially sensitive for the president, a constitutional law lecturer in his former life. [my emphasis]

As a threshold matter, let me agree that Bob Bauer will be much more successful at ramming through nominations, which if we’re going to reclaim the judicial system from the mess that the Federalist Society and Alberto Gonzales’ DOJ made of it, is critically important. Bauer’s a fierce partisan unafraid to call out Republicans on their partisan grand-standing. I look forward to his role in nominations.

That said, Ambinder does give evidence of such a split.

It is true that Mr. Craig and Mr. Emanuel did not always see eye to eye.  It was Craig’s importuning that may have convinced the president to release Bush-era Justice Department memorandum that sanctioned torture.

“This is what you were elected to do,” Craig told the president in one Oval Office meeting.

Emanuel worried about the political repercussions of a first-term young Democratic president who would appear to be thumbing the eyes of the national security establishment.  Craig won the round.

Which, at the very least, ought to make you ask: even accepting the premise that this was all about Craig’s management problems, why was it handled in this way? Why was it clear to everyone outside the White House–at the time when, Ambinder claims, “the president’s staff appeared to be ready to give Craig a second chance”–that there was this animosity between Rahm and Craig? Why was that animosity always framed in terms of Gitmo and torture? If “the president’s staff appeared ready to give Craig a second chance,” why did leaks that looked remarkably like leaks from the President’s Chief of Staff continue unabated? Why did that leaker turn this into a public issue, rather than just handling it quietly?

If the White House is ousting people for bad management, and the Chief of Staff spent the last three or four months leaking about Craig’s imminent departure rather than implementing that imminent departure, then why isn’t Obama also ousting the Chief of Staff, who turned the White House into a petty sniping war instead of managing it like an adult?

Rahm may want to blame Greg Craig that Dawn Johnsen hasn’t been confirmed (a nice sop to the liberals suspicious that Craig’s ouster was over torture). But in doing so, he is making it clear he’s to blame for turning the Craig ouster into a fiasco.

Rahm’s Greg Craig Campaign

How many stories–transparently sourced to Rahm Emanuel and predicting Greg Craig’s demise–have to appear before people start asking why Rahm is so persistently targeting Craig? Today’s NYT story follows on at least three other stories of the same genre (one, two, three). And it hides Rahm’s tracks even less than the earlier examples from the genre. There’s the on the record quote from Rahm.

“The president believes he has done a very good job and continues to do a very good job,” Mr. Emanuel said. “The notion that you’re going to blame him is ridiculous. He didn’t create Guantánamo. He is trying to work within the system to meet the president’s goal.”

There’s the blame on Rahm for trimming Craig’s portfolio on high profile issues.

At moments, it has looked as if Mr. Craig’s authority has been trimmed back. Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, assigned Pete Rouse, a senior adviser with deep ties to Capitol Hill, to oversee Guantánamo issues.

Similarly, after Mr. Craig started the search that produced the Supreme Court nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Mr. Emanuel assigned the confirmation fight to Ronald A. Klain and Cynthia Hogan, aides to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. with long experience handling judicial appointments.

In both instances, White House officials said that Mr. Craig remained involved but that it made sense to tap people with political backgrounds to manage political issues, particularly since Mr. Craig had so many other duties, like scrutinizing legislation, vetting appointees and selecting judges.

And there’s the description of Rahm’s juvenile taunts going back to the Lewinsky days.

He studied law at Yale with Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and joined the Clinton White House in 1998 to fight impeachment. Longtime aides resented the newcomer. When the announcement of his appointment described Mr. Craig as the “quarterback” of the impeachment defense, some Clinton aides, including Mr. Emanuel, derisively referred to him as “QB.” (All these years later, Mr. Emanuel said he liked and respected Mr. Craig.)

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The Tortured Intra-Administration Squabble Continues

The NYT has another story mapping the tensions within the White House over the torture issue (though this one, which cites Rahm directly, primarily portrays him–implausibly–as the neutral broker), this one focusing on the Holder-Panetta drama. The most interesting passage in the story, though, is this one.

At the time, Mr. Panetta felt besieged on several fronts. Mr. Blair, the intelligence director, was pushing to appoint the senior intelligence officials in each country overseas, a traditional prerogative of the C.I.A.

And other administration officials complained when the C.I.A. sent documents about the detention program to the Senate Intelligence Committee without giving the White House time to consider whether there were any executive privilege issues.

The interagency debate grew heated enough that Mr. Emanuel summoned Mr. Panetta, Mr. Blair and other officials to the White House to set down rules for what should be provided to Congress. Mr. Panetta complained that he was being chastised for excessive openness after being criticized for excessive secrecy when he pushed to withhold details from the interrogation memos.

The various issues raised by the Bush-era interrogation and detention policies have caused other tensions within the Obama team. Mr. Emanuel and others have concluded that the White House mishandled the planning for the closing of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Set aside the Blair-Panetta tension over Chiefs of Station here for the moment, which structurally in this passage is just a feint. While I’m sure the Blair-Panetta squabble over Chiefs of Station came up at the meeting, the passage focuses more closely on what CIA gave to SSCI–presumably for its extensive investigation into the torture program. This dispute was reported–as an intra-CIA squabble–back in May. And back then, Mark Hosenball reported that Panetta wanted to give full cables to SSCI, but instead compromised on giving them redacted cables.

Panetta’s instinct was to give Congress what it wanted. But undercover officers warned him that this would break with standard practice, and veteran spies worried that it would chill brainstorming between field agents and their controllers. Aiming to compromise, Panetta signaled to Congress that the CIA would turn over only redacted documents—and that it would take a long time to vet as many as 10 million pages of cable traffic.

Congressional investigators aren’t backing down, however, insisting on all of the material without deletions, including names of personnel who participated in harsh questioning, and holding subpoenas in reserve. 

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Greg Craig in Trouble … But for What?

I’ve disliked Greg Craig since the time–before Obama was elected–he insulted our intelligence by suggesting Obama had flip-flopped on FISA because FISA (and not the odious Protect America Act) was expiring. It was bad enough that Obama caved on an important issue without his advisor insulting our intelligence as to why.

But I’m worried that Greg Craig’s job as White House Counsel may be in jeopardy for the wrong reasons. 

The WSJ reports that is in jeopardy.

Mr. Craig has come under criticism from inside the administration and in Congress for a perceived failure to manage the political issues that have originated from Mr. Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo, according to officials in the administration and in Congress. This criticism has drawn focus away from president’s priorities, such as health care and energy.

Since when is it the job of the White House Counsel to manage "the political issues" on key national security issues? Isn’t that the job of the political people–men like Rahm Emanuel (whom Greg Craig saved a heap of headache in the way he handled the Blagojevich fallout, though in that, too, he insulted our intelligence) and David Axelrod?

And from there, the description gets even weirder. Apparently, Greg Craig is in trouble because Dick Cheney made a stink after Obama released the torture memos.

Mr. Craig and Attorney General Eric Holder won the fight to release the memorandums, with minimal redactions, but the White House had to move quickly to limit political damage. Former Vice President Dick Cheney sharpened criticism of Mr. Obama during a televised speech that followed Mr. Obama’s own address intended to explain his national-security vision. 

And because polls no longer support closing Gitmo.

Mr. Obama signed executive orders during his first week in office to close the Guantanamo prison, to review the cases of the more than 200 detainees there and to draw up possible changes to detention and interrogation policies.

At the time Mr. Obama enjoyed public support for his Guantanamo plans, polls showed. Six months later that public support has dissipated, polls show.

In other words, WSJ seems to suggest that Craig is in trouble because he supported the right decisions on policies, but the political people in the White House mismanaged implementing those decisions. Taking the correct stand on moral issues only works, after all, if you sustain that stand and refuse to be cowed by Dick Cheney.

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Holder v. Rahm: The Torture Fight

rahmemanuel1113.thumbnail.jpgThe headline news in Dennis Klaidman’s long piece on Eric Holder is that Holder may appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate torture.

Four knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that he is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation practices, something the president has been reluctant to do. While no final decision has been made, an announcement could come in a matter of weeks, say these sources, who decline to be identified discussing a sensitive law-enforcement matter.

But the whole piece is worth reading for two other reasons: the drama it paints between Holder and Rahm (and the White House political agenda more generally), and the details it gives about the torture policy thus far.

Rahm v. Holder

First, Rahm.  Even to the extent to which the profile of Holder here reads like a puff piece, the entire piece is driven with two, related, narrative conflicts: Holder’s regret over the Marc Rich pardon.

And though Holder has bluntly acknowledged that he "blew it," the Rich decision haunts him. Given his professional roots, he says, "the notion that you would take actions based on political considerations runs counter to everything in my DNA."

And the tension of working for a Rahm-driven White House.

Any White House tests an attorney general’s strength. But one run by Rahm Emanuel requires a particular brand of fortitude. A legendary enforcer of presidential will, Emanuel relentlessly tries to anticipate political threats that could harm his boss. He hates surprises. That makes the Justice Department, with its independent mandate, an inherently nervous-making place for Emanuel. During the first Clinton administration, he was famous for blitzing Justice officials with phone calls, obsessively trying to gather intelligence, plant policy ideas, and generally keep tabs on the department.

One of his main interlocutors back then was Holder.


"Rahm’s style is often misunderstood," says Holder. "He brings a rigor and a discipline that is a net plus to this administration." For his part, Emanuel calls Holder a "strong, independent attorney general." But Emanuel’s agitated presence hangs over the building—"the wrath of Rahm," one Justice lawyer calls it—and he is clearly on the minds of Holder and his aides as they weigh whether to launch a probe into the Bush administration’s interrogation policies.

In spite of the reported warmth between the two, Rahm is depicted as opposing a torture investigation. And there’s a remarkable anonymous quote in the article that contextually appears to be Rahm, Read more

Obama and State Secrets

Last night, Obama suggested that his Administration may be in the process of softening their Cheneyesque stance on state secrets.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. During the campaign you criticized President Bush’s use of the state secrets privilege. But U.S. attorneys have continued to argue the Bush position in three cases in court. How exactly does your view of state secrets differ from President Bush’s? And do you believe Presidents should be able to derail entire lawsuits about warrantless wiretapping or rendition, if classified information is involved?

THE PRESIDENT: I actually think that the state secret doctrine should be modified. I think right how it’s over-broad. But keep in mind what happens is, we come into office, we’re in for a week — and suddenly we’ve got a court filing that’s coming up. And so we don’t have the time to effectively think through what exactly should an overarching reform of that doctrine take. We’ve got to respond to the immediate case in front of us.

I think it is appropriate to say that there are going to be cases in which national security interests are genuinely at stake, and that you can’t litigate without revealing covert activities or classified information that would genuinely compromise our safety. But searching for ways to redact, to carve out certain cases, to see what can be done so that a judge in chambers can review information without it being in open court — you know, there should be some additional tools so that it’s not such a blunt instrument. And we’re interested in pursuing that. I know that Eric Holder and Greg Craig, my White House Counsel, and others are working on that as we speak.

Now, at one level, this is unsurprising. As I reported last week, Jerry Nadler reported that Eric Holder appeared to agree in principle with Nadler’s efforts to reform state secrets.

But the claim that, "we come into office, we’re in for a week — and suddenly we’ve got a court filing that’s coming up"? That I’ve got limited patience with. True, the Administration did have a bunch of state secrets cases come up right at the beginning of the term. True, many of those came up even before Eric Holder was confirmed.

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Greg Craig and State Secrets

Greg Sargent reports on Obama’s refusal to reveal whether he will support or oppose the State Secrets legislation in Congess. To which Mark Ambinder provides an even more telling response.

They no-commented me last week, and they’re stonewalling Greg Sargent this week: the White House refuses to say whether the President supports the State Secrets Protection Act in Congress.  As a candidate, Obama supported the principles espoused in a similar piece of legislation, but he did not sign on to the bill as a cosponsor.  My reporting leads me to believe that senior administration officials, including the White House counsel, Gregory Craig, oppose the current version of the legislation because they believe it would overturn an important, established precedent and weaken the ability of the president to protect national security. [my emphasis]

Yeah … Greg Craig … you think maybe he’s opposed to rolling back state secrets?

Mind you, Obama is 100% responsible for the policies his crappy advisors implement, so ultimately, Ambinder might as well have said, "Obama and his White House counsel" are opposed to the new bill. But Greg Craig was the guy reiterating the state secrets Bush had declared at a time before Eric Holder had been read into some of those questions. Greg Craig is the guy who refuses to go on the record to explain to what degree he’s got Obama following Bush on signing statements, too. 

Now, frankly, I don’t think it much matters what Clinton throwback Greg Craig (or for that matter, Obama) thinks about state secrets. As I suggested here and here, the courts are heading in precisely the same direction as Congress on this issue, and that’s before Vaughn Walker gets done with Obama’s Cheneyesque argumentation. So regardless of whether this is done via legislation or the courts, I suspect it will be done.

That said, Greg Craig has been a bumbling disaster since well before Obama won this election, putting a face of dishonesty on Obama’s stated better intentions. Along with this backwards embrace of state secrets, Obama’d do well to get rid of his reactionary White House counsel, too. 

Greg Craig Won’t Tell You How Obama Disappeared the Whistleblowers

Charlie Savage has an article chronicling Chuck Grassley’s objection to something I objected to last week–Obama’s signing statement undermining whistleblowers.

But that’s not the really creepy part of the article. The creepy part is the way some Obama Administration official, who happens to have the same legal credential and sophist argumentative technique as Greg Craig, provided input for the article.

The White House press office referred questions to an administration official, imposing the condition that he not be identified by name or title.

The official, a lawyer, said Mr. Obama was “committed to whistle-blower protections.” He declined to define every kind of instance in which the president’s power to keep a matter confidential would trump a whistle-blower protection statute, but he did say the administration had no intention of going further than did Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in signing statements concerning similar provisions.

“I don’t think President Obama’s signing statement injects a new level of uncertainty into the law,” he said.


The administration official pointed to a memorandum Mr. Obama issued on March 9 laying out a signing statements policy. The document, which does not mention legislative intent, says he will employ only “legitimate” interpretations of statutes. Mr. Obama’s challenge in this case, the official said, is consistent with that principle.

So, let’s review here: They’ve got Charlie Savage talking to a mysterious lawyer on the condition that the lawyer not be named. Said lawyer refuses to explain what the signing statement means for whistleblowers, but claims this doesn’t create any new uncertainty. And then said lawyer asserts that the signing statement from last week was–by definition–a "legitimate" interpretation of statute, legislative intent be damned.

Yup. This is the way we bring transparency to the White House alright.

Chuck Grassley’s ire at Obama’s childish games with whistleblowers will remain a story, so I’m happy Savage covered it. But at some point, Obama’s just as ridiculous approach to discussing legal issues with the press needs to become the story. I realize Greg Craig just recently came fromWilliam & Connolly, where the off-the-record manipulation of the press may be second nature, but he’s working for the American people now, and these things he’s talking about are actually supposed to be laws. It’d be really nice if Greg Craig had the decency to tell us what the laws in this country are.