White House Counsel Ruemmler Leaving

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Monday, 07 Apr 2014 06:53 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Kathryn Ruemmler, who as White House counsel since June 2011 wielded considerable influence over controversial White House policies, will be leaving in mid-May, The New York Times reported.

President Barack Obama said in a statement that, "Kathy has become one of my most trusted advisers over the past few years. I deeply value her smarts, her judgment, and her wit – but most importantly her uncanny ability to see around the corners that nobody else anticipates."

Ruemmler, a former Enron prosecutor and white-collar defense lawyer, was not part of Obama's inner circle when she took up the assignment. She quickly built up trust with the president and his top aides. Her reputation was as a lawyer who did not push her own agenda and focused on Obama's "equities," the Times reported.

The president took her advice to seek congressional authorization for any air strike on Syria, though she assured him he had the legal authority to act on his own against that country's chemical weapons facilities, according to the Times.

She led White House pressure on the Democratic leadership in the senate to change the filibuster rules so the president's judicial appointments could be advanced by a simple majority instead of a 60-vote supermajority. Her advice in support of same-sex marriage also held sway. She advised the president to cite executive privilege regarding emails involving the Fast and Furious gun program.

Ruemmler's position on Freedom of Information requests was to oppose the disclosure of any documents that might dissuade someone from being frank with the president. She worked against providing correspondence between Justice Department lawyers and the White House outlining the legal justification for the targeted killing in Yemen of Anwar al-Awlaki, a United States citizen fighting with al-Qaida.

She backed Obama's decision to act unilaterally to get around congressional inaction. With the senate refusing to vote on the president's nominees, she provided the legal reasoning for temporary recess appointments by executive order while the senate was on vacation, though not formally adjourned. The Supreme Court is now considering the president's actions.

Denis McDonough, the president's chief of staff, told the Times that Ruemmler – who is Obama's longest-serving counsel – exerted power in a way that has been "little understood but highly consequential."

Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss described her as an adversary whose word could be trusted.

"Whatever she represented in a meeting with us ended up being exactly what happened," he told the Times. "You never had to question where she was coming from and she never volunteered something she didn’t know. She is very precise but very firm also, and held her own well."

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