Stephanopoulos Throws Softballs to Former Top Obama Aide, Lets Him Mislead on Kagan’s Anti-Military Decisions
Stephanopoulos led off the interview, which began 8 minutes into the 7 am Eastern hour, with a softball question: "What's the single thing that impresses President Obama most about Kagan?" After the former White House counsel and former Clinton administration official played up Kagan's allegedly "extraordinary" amount of experience, the ABC anchor then asked, "What do you think is the single greatest threat to her nomination- to confirmation?"
Craig raised Kagan's vocal support for Harvard Law School's policy of banning military recruiters from its campus during her tenure as dean in his answer: "Well, you know, to be quite honest with you, I can't identify a single greatest threat. The Solomon Amendment dispute was a very serious dispute. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals found the Solomon Amendment unconstitutional. It wasn't until after that it was declared unconstitutional did recruiters not come to Harvard Law School." Stephanopoulos replied incorrectly that "that was her keeping the ROTC off Harvard [Law] campus because she opposed gays- the don't ask, don't tell policy." Craig then answered, "Yeah, it had nothing to do with the ROTC, so much it was recruiters that were violating the nondiscrimination policy at the university."
What Craig failed to mention is that the dispute when beyond the Third Circuit Court, all the way to the Supreme Court. The highest court of the land unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the Solomon Amendment in the 2006 Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights decision.
Perhaps Stephanopoulos didn't know about this decision, but it's a definite oversight on his part. The former White House counsel later raised Kagan's time at Williams & Connolly, "one of the great law firms in America," but he didn't mention (nor did Stephanopoulos) that he was a longtime employee of the firm as well, and was there when the nominee worked there between 1989 and 1991.
ABC's Terry Moran also was interviewed, and White House correspondent Jake Tapper offered a brief on the Kagan nomination later in the program just after the top of the 8 am Eastern hour, but the morning program didn't bring any further guests to discuss the issue.
The full transcript of George Stephanopoulos's interview of Greg Craig on Monday's Good Morning America:
STEPANOPOULOS: Let's get more on this now from Greg Craig. He was President Obama's first White House counsel, part of the team for last year's nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Good morning, Greg. Thanks for joining us today-
CRAIG: Good morning, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you were there last year- the President interviewed Elena Kagan last time around. She was probably the runner-up. What's the single thing that impresses President Obama most about Kagan?
CRAIG: Well, I would say that it's her personal and professional qualifications. She's a solid, hard-working, intelligent- really smart lawyer who has had an extraordinary amount of experience in the law, even though she hasn't been a judge. He is a constitutional lawyer, and so is she. I think it's a terrific appointment from the personal point of view, from the professional point of view- and politically, I think she's also mainstream as they can get. So, there may be opposition, but I cannot believe it would be serious opposition, given her qualifications.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But- in the White House, you internalized the lesson that these nominations are won and lost in the first 48 hours-
CRAIG: That's right-
STEPHANOPOULOS: So give us an insight on how you expect this to unfold over the next 48 hours. And what do you think is the single greatest threat to her nomination- to confirmation?
CRAIG: Well, you know, to be quite honest with you, I can't identify a single greatest threat. The Solomon Amendment dispute was a very serious dispute. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals found the Solomon Amendment unconstitutional. It wasn't until after that it was declared unconstitutional did recruiters not come to Harvard Law School-
STEPHANOPOULOS: That was her keeping the ROTC off Harvard [Law] campus because she opposed gays- the don't ask, don't tell policy-
CRAIG: Right. Well, it was recruiters.
CRAIG: Yeah, it had nothing to do with the ROTC, so much it was recruiters that were violating the nondiscrimination policy at the university.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You say you can't imagine a threat, but you're already seeing some criticism of Elena Kagan. You have conservatives, David McIntosh saying she is one of the most inexperienced nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court in recent memory.
CRAIG: Well, I just disagree with that. I think that's just so wrong. If you look at her record, it is extraordinary record. She has- worked in the private sector. She worked with Williams & Connolly in Washington, DC, one of the great law firms in America. She then taught at two of the great law schools in America, [University of] Chicago and Harvard. She ran Harvard Law School brilliantly, everybody says. She brought a consensus together with a faculty that was deeply divided, and she served in the government. She served in all three branches of the government with distinction, most recently as the representative of the government of the United States, the people of the United States in front of the Supreme Court. So I think you don't have to have judicial experience to be a highly qualified candidate, and I think most people would agree with that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Another conservative activist e-mailed me just earlier this morning, saying that her closeness to President Obama could be an issue, that the White House is looking for someone to rubber stamp President Obama's big government agenda. Now, I don't expect you to agree with that, but how big a consideration is the notion that a lot of the President's laws, like the health care plan, are going to be coming before this court?
CRAIG: Well, there's no question about that, but- you know, no one would say that Elena Kagan is a rubber stamp for anybody. She is her own person. She's an independent force of nature. She works hard, and- you know, she'll be a good judge- no question about it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One final question- she will probably have to recuse herself from a number of issues because she served as solicitor general, and there's likely to be a call to release a lot of her papers from her time in the White House. Do you think the White House should give on that?
CRAIG: Well, I think the White House is prepared to release all the papers that the [Senate] Judiciary Committee needs to make its decision, and she has a long record of service in the government, and I'm sure that they'll be available to the Judiciary Committee to review, and I can't imagine that there's any problem with it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, Greg Craig, thanks very much for your insight this morning.
CRAIG: Good to see you, George.