The Cable

Crowley resigns over Manning remarks

State Department Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley resigned on Sunday afternoon, only two days after he was reported to have called the treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source Private Bradley Manning "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid." Crowley stood by those remarks in his resignation statement on Sunday afternoon. "My recent comments regarding the conditions ...

State Department Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley resigned on Sunday afternoon, only two days after he was reported to have called the treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source Private Bradley Manning "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid."

Crowley stood by those remarks in his resignation statement on Sunday afternoon.

"My recent comments regarding the conditions of the pre-trial detention of Private First Class Bradley Manning were intended to highlight the broader, even strategic impact of discreet actions undertaken by national security agencies every day and their impact on our global standing and leadership. The exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values," he said.

"Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility, I have submitted my resignation as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and Spokesman for the Department of State."

Crowley made the remarks on March 10 to an audience at MIT and first confirmed them to The Cable, explaining on March 11, "What I said was my personal opinion. It does not reflect an official USG policy position. I defer to the Department of Defense regarding the treatment of Bradley Manning,"

But the Defense Department was furious at Crowley. The leadership at the Pentagon thought it outrageous that a U.S. government official, much less the State Department’s top spokesman, would publicly criticize the Marine Corps and their treatment of a prisoner.

Manning, who is being held in a maximum security prison and under isolation 23 hours a day at the Marine Corps’ base in Quantico, VA, has reportedly been subject to daily disrobing and various other humiliations, which have been widely criticized by human rights groups, including Amnesty International.

The controversy over Crowley’s comment escalated when Jake Tapper of ABC News asked President Barack Obama at his March 11 press conference whether he agreed with the State Department spokesman.

"With respect to Private Manning, I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are," said Obama. "I can’t go into details about some of their concerns, but some of this has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted the resignation Sunday with regret.

"P.J. has served our nation with distinction for more than three decades, in uniform and as a civilian," she said in a statement. "His service to country is motivated by a deep devotion to public policy and public diplomacy, and I wish him the very best."

Clinton said that Mike Hammer, who moved over from being NSC spokesman in January to take the position of principal deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, will step in as the acting assistant secretary for the time being.

Before Crowley took the job as the top State Department spokesman, he served for 26 years in the Air Force, retiring with the rank of Colonel in 1999. He served as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs and National Security Council spokesman during the Clinton administration. He was also a senior fellow and director of homeland security at the Center for American Progress.

Crowley was known among the State Department press corps for his cooperative and principled approach to government-media relations. He often worked to provide information to journalists above and beyond what was necessary — while also defending the State Department’s interests.

Crowley’s tendency to add some analysis and candid observations to the facts of a given issue was valued by the reporters he worked with, but it also got him in trouble on more than one occasion.

In March 2010, the State Department had to do damage control with Libyan ruler Muammar al-Qaddafi (then an ally of the United States) after Crowley said of Qaddafi’s rambling speech at the United Nations, "I can recall lots of words and lots of papers flying all over the place, not necessarily a lot of sense."

As for Crowley’s management of the public affairs office, the State Department’s Inspector General praised him in a recent report but also highlighted a lack of communication between Crowley’s shop and other key communications officials, such as Deputy Assistant Secretary Philippe Reines.

For most inside the State Department, Crowley was a good guy with a tough job, doing the best he could in unenviable circumstances.

"P.J was a real asset with a wealth of experience and a pro," one State Department official told The Cable. "There is no reason P.J.’s successor won’t face similar problems. It will take more than an IG report to fix those issues."

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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