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World & Nation

Ex-White House counsel Ruemmler off the list for attorney general

Kathryn Ruemmler
Kathy Ruemmler, former White House counsel, appears on “Meet the Press” in June.
(NBC NewsWire )

Former White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler has told the White House to take her off the list of potential nominees for attorney general, eliminating a leading, but likely politically divisive, contender for the post.

President Obama had asked her to consider replacing Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., but Ruemmler, now working in private practice, chose to remove herself from consideration this week, a White House official said.

She was considered among the top three candidates to replace Holder, who announced a month ago that he plans to leave the job once a successor is confirmed by the Senate.

Ruemmler’s nomination probably would have sparked significant Republican opposition and a prolonged confirmation fight in Congress. As the president’s former lawyer and a longtime trusted advisor, she was involved in nearly every controversial White House decision and debate during her tenure, which began in 2011 and ended in June.

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Republicans probably would have sought scores of documents on the president’s drone and counter-terrorism policies, the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and Obama’s push to bypass Congress with executive actions — requests could have sparked a bruising standoff over executive privilege.

“Given the partisan climate and political polarization in Washington, she concluded that the nomination of a close advisor to the president would result in a prolonged and distorted confirmation process that would serve neither the administration nor the Department of Justice,” said a source close to Ruemmler, who asked not to be named discussing private talks.

Ruemmler was approached by the president in September around the time Holder announced his departure and informed Obama of her decision by phone on Wednesday, the source said. 

“Kathy is someone who always tells it like it is, is a world-class lawyer, and remains a trusted advisor to the president,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said in statement. “Anyone who knows Kathy knows she has impeccable judgment, extraordinary foresight — and is a formidable force. But she is also as selfless as they come, and the president is proud to call her a close friend.”

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Obama has delayed naming his choice for the post until after the election hoping to avoid throwing his nominee into the fire of campaign in which many Democrats are looking for ways to distance themselves from an unpopular president. White House officials were mindful that some Senate Democrats could come out against his pick, making for an even more difficult confirmation process.

The president has yet to make up his mind on a nominee, said the White House official, who would not be named discussing internal deliberations. The official said the White House also has not decided whether it will ask Senate Democrats to rush to try to confirm the choice during the lame-duck session after the midterm elections, or wait until the new Congress next year, risking the chance that Republicans then control the Senate.

Ruemmler’s withdrawal leaves Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. and Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez as names most often discussed as potential nominees. Perez, a liberal attorney long involved in Maryland politics, is also considered a controversial choice. He was only narrowly confirmed for his current post.

For more White House news, follow @khennessey


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