The move, effective Jan. 3, comes one month after Craig in an interview with The National Law Journal said, "The reports that I'm about to leave are wrong. I have no plans to leave."
But Craig was under pressure for his support of a one-year deadline to shutter Guantanamo -- a deadline that now seems unlikely to be met. During his 11 month tenure, he gambled by taking on a bigger role in crafting policy than others who have held the job, a move which exposed him to criticism -- and blame -- within the administration and press.
News of the White House Counsel shake-up coincided with the announcement that five high-profile Guantanamo detainees linked to the 9/11 attacks will be tried in federal court in New York City.
In his letter of resignation, Craig made no mention of Guantanamo, though he did flag one of his successes. "Working with others inside and outside the White House, we helped you identify and appoint Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be your first nominee to the Supreme Court. We share your pride in that appointment and the work that went into it."
Craig wrote that he planned to return to private practice, though he did not specify where. Prior to becoming White House Counsel, he was a partner at Williams & Connolly.
President Barack Obama in a statement called Craig "a close friend and trusted adviser who tackled many challenges as White House Counsel."
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. called the news of Craig's resignation a "surprise" in remarks Friday at a Main Justice press conference.
Holder said Craig has had a good relationship with the Justice Department. The attorney general called Craig a great lawyer and a friend. “Yes, it was a surprise,” Holder said at the news conference, where he also discussed the decision about where to prosecute 10 detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
“I know he leaves with the thanks of the president and certainly with my gratitude," Holder said.
Another Craig friend, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, called Craig one of the “greatest lawyers and one of the greatest people I've ever had the pleasure to work with.” Breuer and Craig worked closely together defending then-President Bill Clinton during his impeachment hearings.
In naming Bauer as Craig's replacement, Obama described the Perkins Coie partner as "a tough and widely respected advocate. 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."
Bauer is currently general counsel to Obama for America as well as general counsel to the Democratic National Committee, and has been counsel for many years to the Democratic Senatorial and Congressional Campaign Committees. He has also served as co-counsel to the New Hampshire State Senate in the trial of Chief Justice David A. Brock in 2000 and counsel to the Democratic Leader in the trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999. He could not be reached immediately for comment.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement praising Craig (a fellow Vermonter). Leahy said, "Greg Craig is an exceptional public servant, as well as a gifted lawyer. Together with President Obama, he helped to bolster the integrity of the Presidency, and restore integrity to the White House Counsel's Office."
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.